TriMet bus operator rescues stolen dog, helps with safe return to family

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TriMet bus operators can do it all. They get thousands of people safely where they need to go every day. They provide customer service, give direction and offer assistance. And in the case of operator Mickeal “Mike” Thomas, they even rescue dogs.

Security video from a TriMet bus captured the moment operator Mike Thomas spotted “Cooper” the dog on Capitol Highway/TriMet CCTV

Mike has been driving for TriMet since 2014, but he is a life-long dog lover. On Saturday, March 9, 2019, as he drove a Line 54-Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy bus down Capitol Highway, he noticed a car ahead of him slow down to avoid something in the middle of the road. As he got closer, Mike realized it was a man, holding a dog by the collar. He stopped the bus and turned on his hazard lights.

Moments later, the man approached the door. Mike wasn’t at a bus stop, but he allowed the man to board for the safety of the individual as well as drivers who might be startled by a man in the roadway. As he got on, the dog made a run for it.

“Is that your dog?” Mike asked. The man said yes. “Well you better go get him,” he told the man.

The man called the dog, and true to the nature of a Labrador Retriever, the dog returned to the bus. The man pulled the dog onboard by his collar, and Mike explained the rules for riding with pets. TriMet allows pets on buses and trains, but they’re supposed to be in a carrier. Service animals can board with only a leash. The man didn’t have a carrier or a leash, but Mike let them ride, again believing it was the safest thing to do.

“Cooper” sits on a Line 54-Beaverton/Hillsdale Hwy bus as an unknown man holds his collar/TriMet CCTV

Mike continued on his route, but something didn’t feel right. He started asking the man questions.

He asked, “How long have you had the dog?”

“We sort of adopted each other today,” the man replied.

As the ride continued, some of the other passengers came to the front of the bus to sit near the dog and give him a pat on the head. Mike overheard the man telling one rider that the dog was very nice, and if she wanted him, she could have him. At one point, the dog walked up to the driver’s seat. Mike was able to see his tag. It said, “Cooper,” and there was a phone number.

Mike asked, “What’s your dog’s name again?” 

The man didn’t have an answer.

When the bus made it to Downtown Portland, the man got up, took Cooper by the collar again and approached the front door. Fearing what would happen if the guy got off the bus and Cooper went with him, Mike let the man know he wasn’t buying his story.

“You took this dog from a family that loves it,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that he gets back home.”

The man got off the bus, but Cooper stayed. Mike radioed dispatch, who arranged for a TriMet supervisor, security personnel and a Transit Police officer to meet the bus at the Washington Square Transit Center. He asked one of his regular riders to hold on to Cooper and keep him safe. When the rider got off the bus, Mike took off his belt and, using it as leash, secured Cooper to one of the safety bars at the front of the bus.

“Cooper” sits at the front of the bus secured to a safety pole by operator Mike Thomas’ belt/TriMet CCTV

Mike arrived at the transit center about an hour after Cooper had gotten onboard. A security officer escorted the yellow lab off the bus and Mike handed over Cooper’s tennis ball. As passengers filed on for the next leg of his route, Mike briefly left the driver’s seat. He was still worried.

He walked over to Cooper’s new caretakers. He wanted to make sure they would return him to his family and not turn him over to animal control. Transit Police Officer Brad Quick, a Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy, reassured him.

“Cooper’s going to ride around with me tonight,” he said, “until I can take him back home.”

Operator Mike Thomas hands a TriMet supervisor a tennis ball as “Cooper” got off the bus/TriMet CCTV

As it turned out, Cooper’s family was vacationing in Hawaii. Their adult son was dog-sitting but working late when Cooper went missing. When he got home, he couldn’t find the dog and started to panic. He didn’t yet know that a TriMet dispatcher had left a message on his parents’ cell phone, telling them Cooper was safe and everything was going to be okay.

“Blessings to you and all of TriMet,” said Cooper’s owner, Jane Murphy, after returning to Portland. “Our lives would not be the same without our Cooper. We love him so much.”