Growing up in Dayton’s inner-city, the second oldest of eight children to a single mother, Ryan Morgan said research shows he had “all the makings of being a thug.”
Instead, Morgan chose the opposite — from a life behind bars to one behind a badge.
When asked about his old neighborhood, Morgan said some of his buddies have police records because of their choices.
The man known as Officer Morgan bucked that trend.
Right now, Morgan, 30, a 2003 Dunbar High School graduate, is doing what he always wanted: Serving as a canine handler for the Middletown Division of Police.
“This job is everything to me,” he said, before adding, “the canine job put it over the top.”
Morgan and his canine, a German shepherd named Chase, recently were certified and they’ve been a team for less than one week. They gave an impressive demonstration last Tuesday at the city’s National Night Out, and afterward, Chase was one of the favorites of the children.
“It was exciting, very exciting,” Morgan said of his first public appearance with Chase. “I trust my dog. It was good to see the focus he had on me and the connection we had.”
Morgan and Chase started their partnership about 3½ months ago when he flew to North Carolina and selected the city’s next canine officer, the replacement for Gunner, who was killed Feb. 2 in a barn fire on Officer Dennis Jordan’s property in Madison Twp.
There were six dogs to choose from, Morgan said, and after running through a series of exercises, he selected Chase because of his bright amber eyes.
Well, that and the fact Chase was “far superior” to the other dogs, Morgan said.
Chase, who had just arrived in the United States from Holland, was purchased for $8,000, mostly donations through the Fraternal Order of Police Associates.
At the time, the dog’s birth name was Drty, but Morgan knew people would call him Dirty. That would never work. Who wants to be a Dirty cop?
So Morgan asked an expert, his 5-year-old son, Ryan “J.R.” Morgan Jr. His favorite TV show is “PAW Patrol” and the main character is named Chase.
So Drty became Chase.
“That fits,” Morgan said. “It’s quite amazing to see the dog I have today to the dog I got 3½ months ago.”
They have been inseparable, the officer and his dog, his partner. For the first few weeks, Morgan and Chase spent extensive time with his family: wife, Renee, and their two children, J.R. and Zoe, 3.
You can’t build trust in one day. As Morgan said: “He may save my life one day.”
Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw said canine officers are “invaluable.” He said they can be sent into a home invasion, and find the suspect who may be under a bed. You can’t hide from your scent.
“Nobody wants that dog on them,” Muterspaw said. “People give up. They say, ‘I’m out.’ ”
Then he added: “The dogs are only as good as their handler.”
That’s a lot of pressure on Morgan. He knows that. He embraces that.
“He wants to please me,” the eight-year veteran said of Chase. “He works as hard as I do. If that continues, we should do good work for the city. People say, ‘It’s just a dog.’ They’re not. I have his back and he has my back.”
After graduating from Dunbar, Morgan attended Ohio State University for two years, then returned to Dayton when his mother had some issues. He enrolled in the police academy at Sinclair Community College. He graduated with 21 other cadets, the only African-American in his class.
Now, he has been told, he’s the first African-American canine handler in the city, possibly Butler County. He’s the Jackie Robinson of his profession, an honor he wears proudly.
“That means a lot to me,” he said.
“I better choose my words wisely,” he said slowly. “People sometimes, well, try to make it that we’re held back by society. I don’t feel that way. If you show your worth, you will be given the same opportunities. I worked for it and I got this opportunity.”
Then the conversation returned to his childhood, and the lessons taught by his parents, particularly his single mother.
“She instilled into me a strong work ethic,” he said. “She wanted me, and all her children, to have more than she had.”
Those goals are easier to obtain when the dog’s on your side.
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