Dayton’s four-legged finest helped keep the city safe

In the more than 125-year history of the Dayton Police Department, mounted patrol units have been used twice

Retired Dayton Police Officer Rick Shiverdecker’s home is filled with mementos that remind him of the years he spent patrolling downtown Dayton with his partner.

A scrapbook filled with photographs and newspaper clippings detail their work together. A painting of his comrade hangs on the bedroom wall. And the eulogy Shiverdecker wrote for his partner’s funeral in 1998 is close at hand.

Shiverdecker, who retired from the police department in 2011, worked for a decade on Dayton’s Mounted Patrol Unit. His partner, Traveller, was an 8-year-old quarter horse mix when the two were paired in 1989.

“It was such a great job from the aspect that you were the closest thing to a knight,” Shiverdecker said. “You’ve got to be friendly and nice and save everybody, but on the other hand when you are called into action, you’ve got to be firm and decisive.”

In the more than 150-year history of the Dayton Police Department, mounted patrol units have been in service twice. The original Dayton Mounted Patrol Unit was formed in 1892.

Just seven years after it began, tragedy struck the unit. Patrolman William Dalton died while pursuing “a peddler” on horseback according to a story in the Aug. 10, 1899, edition of the Dayton Daily News.

“While riding at almost breakneck speed,” according to the account, the police officer tried to navigate his horse between an ice wagon and a buggy in pursuit of the offender.

Thrown to the street and trampled by his horse, Dalton sustained a skull fracture and other injuries that killed him. He is the only Dayton police officer to die while on horseback and the third to die in the line of duty, according to the Dayton Police History Foundation.

In the early 1900s, motorized wagons, motorcycles and automobiles became the new tools of the trade for the police force, ending the horse patrol.

Dayton Police Chief James Newby resurrected the horse patrol in 1989 as part of an initiative to enhance law enforcement downtown. Shiverdecker was among the new team of 12 officers who would keep watch on horseback again.

For 14 years, the streets of downtown Dayton were patrolled by Dayton’s four-legged finest with names like Cody, Boomer, Charlie and Doc.

Traveller and Shiverdecker could be found most mornings at the corner of Second and Jefferson streets near the Kettering Tower, keeping an eye out for jaywalkers, directing traffic and interacting with the public.

As pedestrians headed to work, they often greeted the pair, or shared tips about suspicious activity they had seen. “We were a beacon for people,” Shiverdecker said. “We were approachable and people came up and talked.”

Police officers on horseback were not only good for public relations — they were also a valuable tool for police work.

The horses could wade into crowds to help keep control, as they did at a 1994 Ku Klux Klan rally at Courthouse Square. Their presence, combined with a skilled officer, could de-scalate situations before they got out of hand, Shiverdecker said. And sitting high on top of a horse gave the officers a huge sight advantage.

The police officers and their horses bonded during their years patrolling together. Shiverdecker, who refers to his long-time partner as “Traveller the wonder horse,” kept a stash of Atomic Fireball cinnamon-flavored candy, Traveller’s favorite, in his saddlebag.

“You could hear it go click, click, click as he rolled it around his teeth and then you heard crunch,” said Shiverdecker, who was astounded his horse would chew the spicy candy whole.

The horses knew the streets they policed as well as their human partners. While on duty in the Oregon District one night, Shiverdecker and Traveller encountered a man who had just robbed a couple.

As they gave chase, Shiverdecker, who was on his radio directing officers to the scene as he tried to keep an eye on the fleeing suspect, noticed Traveller was racing side to side as he cantered along Green Street. The horse, who wore metal shoes, was familiar with each manhole cover in the street and knew to dodge them, avoiding a potentially tragic fall.

“You do your best riding when you don’t think about riding, and the horse knows that, too,” said Shiverdecker.

Demands on manpower, budgetary considerations and changes in management style eventually led to the demise of the mounted patrol in 2003.

Shiverdecker transferred to the Dayton Police Academy in 1998, the same year he remained at Traveller’s side, remembering him “as a true street cop,” when his equine partner died of heart failure.

“I think I can speak for all the guys and girls in the patrol unit. We miss the public as much as they miss us,” said Shiverdecker. “Being a police horse guy had to be one of the coolest jobs in the world.”

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