published Friday, June 27th, 2014

Slimmed-down Oregon police horse collars suspect

Officer Cassandra Wells takes Murphy the police horse out for a ride, in Portland, Ore., in this 2013 photo.
Officer Cassandra Wells takes Murphy the police horse out for a ride, in Portland, Ore., in this 2013 photo.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Murphy the horse, once a woebegone Oregon ranch animal, had to shed 200 pounds to make the Portland police force, and now he has collared his first suspect.

Murphy, carrying Officer Cassandra Wells, galloped six blocks to catch a break-in suspect last week. He kept the suspect trapped next to a building in the Old Town district until officers could cuff him.

"He did everything I needed him to do," Wells told The Oregonian.

The arrest caps a ripe-for-the-movies story about a horse that weighed in at 1,900 pounds after his owner, in financial distress, sold him off to a Portland officer searching the Internet for a new member of the city's popular Mounted Patrol Unit.

Murphy was undersize at birth, even though he was born three weeks overdue. He was easily distracted and not considered particularly handsome, unlike a younger half-brother who turned out to be a trophy winner.

So he was given the full name "Murphy's Law," the axiom that if something can go wrong, it will.

"Being honest," owner Randy Snow told the newspaper last year, "we ended up with five horses on the ranch, and old Murphy was always low man on the totem pole."

Murphy got overweight because he wasn't being ridden and because the owners couldn't afford hay. So Murphy roamed the property feeding on grass, a diet The Oregonian likened to an all-pizza diet for humans.

The police bureau's horse trainer, Jennifer Mack, saw possibilities, though, and the city bought the gelding for $3,000.

Murphy went on a strict diet and an aerobic exercise regimen that included an electric walker, a kind of treadmill that prods a horse to keep walking in a circle.

After months of work, Murphy made the grade, and started patrolling in the city's upscale Pearl District.

He's among the eight animals that patrol downtown to the delight of Portlanders. Budget hawks sometimes call for cutting the unit but get nowhere.

And Murphy has turned out right, judged perhaps the second best in the unit when he began patrol duty in January.

"He's awesome," Wells said then. "He wants to keep learning. I couldn't have a better partner."

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