Several weeks ago, Brayden Morton was working in his home office when he heard a commotion coming from his gated backyard. He peered out the window to check on his dog Darla, who was lounging on the back deck just minutes before. To his horror, she was gone.
Morton dashed downstairs and saw that the backyard gate was wide open. Then, he watched as a truck sped off - with Darla, his treasured 3-year-old Chinese Shar-Pei, inside.
“I immediately started running after them,” Morton, 35, recalled. Before he could catch up, though, “They were gone. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.”
Morton, who lives in British Columbia, called the police in a panic. Although local officials issued a news release the same day, June 18, about the lost dog and pledged to keep a lookout for her, Morton knew he needed to do more.
“It honestly felt like my world had just come crashing down on me,” he said.
Determined to find Darla, Morton decided he might up his odds by sharing the story on Facebook. He hoped it would reach other residents of Cranbrook - a city with a population of about 20,000 people.
In a desperate plea, he wrote: “Please share and help me. A blue older model Ford truck just pulled up behind my house and took Darla.”
He offered a reward of about $4,000 to anyone who could return her home safely or provide information regarding her whereabouts. Morton decided to include the financial incentive - to which a friend contributed an additional $2,000 - because “this is my dog and I love her. This isn’t stealing a bike out of my garage; this is much more serious,” he said.
The post was shared more than 30,000 times, and by the following morning, “I had something like 497 messages,” Morton said. “I was getting leads from all across the world. It was crazy.”
Later that day, he received a call from a local woman who was convinced she spotted the truck he described parked outside a hardware store. Morton rushed there, only to discover it was the wrong person.
“Once I realized she wasn’t in there, I was so disappointed,” Morton said.
The next day, another call came through. This time, it was a young woman - and she was wailing.
“She was just crying on the other end. She couldn’t even talk,” said Morton, who quickly sensed she had Darla. “I said to her, ‘Listen, I’ve messed up a lot in my life, and I’ve been forgiven for a lot of things I did. I’m not mad at you.’ "
The woman - who did not accept a request for comment from The Washington Post and asked that her name not be published due to privacy concerns - told him to meet her at a nearby gas station. He promised to bring the reward money, totaling about $6,000.
The 20-year-old woman held Darla on a leash while she waited for Morton. When he pulled up and saw his dog there, “it was one of the most overwhelming feelings I’ve ever felt. I was elated,” he said.
But once he reclaimed his pet, he focused on the young woman across from him as she wept uncontrollably.
“She is just a kid, and she was standing there bawling. I went and gave her a hug, and I said, ‘It’s all right,’ " Morton recalled. Within minutes of talking to her, “I could tell that she was a fentanyl addict, like me.”
Morton, who has been sober since May 19, 2015, struggled with drug addiction since he was a teenager.
“I was in out and of treatment 16 times. I was the hopeless addict who was never supposed to get better,” Morton said.
But after a near-death experience, he finally pledged to get clean.
“Going to treatment was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s also the most enlightening experience I’ve ever had,” Morton said.
After becoming sober, he volunteered at the rehab center he attended, and in 2018, he became a clinical drug and alcohol interventionist. Since then, he has dedicated his career to helping addicts get sober. He also created a free service, called Find the Right Rehab, to assist people with choosing a suitable treatment center.
Morton shared his story with the woman, and she told him her own. She explained that she had been living on the streets for several years, relying on sex work to fund her drug addiction, Morton said. She wanted to get help, he said, but she was terrified.
“When you’re a fentanyl addict, your number one fear is detoxing and getting clean,” Morton said, explaining the agonizing withdrawal symptoms.
She told him that she and two other people stole Darla and planned to sell her online. But after she came across his post on Facebook, “she couldn’t live with herself,” Morton said. “She told me she’s a dog lover.”
After they spoke for about half an hour, Morton took out the reward money in a brown envelope, turned to her and said: “I know if I give you this money, I’m going to hear about you dead in the next day or two.”
He worried she would use the money to buy drugs and would eventually overdose. So, he decided to offer something else.
“I’m going to take this money, and I’m going use it to pay for you to go to treatment. I’m going to give you the opportunity to help yourself,” he told her.
She accepted his offer, and they traded phone numbers. Once they parted ways, Morton called Susan Hogarth, the executive director of Westminster House Society, a nonprofit organization and addiction recovery program for women and girls, in the hope that he could secure a spot for the woman he just met.
“He contacted me and asked me if I would be willing to take her into residential treatment,” Hogarth said. “I immediately agreed.”
The 90-day treatment program is about $22,000 - a small portion of which is covered by government funding.
“Brayden is going to support her while we get her funding in place,” Hogarth said, adding that the organization relies on several streams of financial aid, including donations. “We will do whatever we can to get her well.”
After speaking many times with the young woman to discuss logistics and ensure she was comfortable with the plan, Morton booked her a flight from Cranbrook to New Westminster, where the treatment center is located.
“His heart is truly in it,” Hogarth said of Morton. “In this whole situation that happened with him and his beloved pet Darla, a normal person would be angry, but his anger just melted off of him as soon as he noted that this girl was so sick.”
Morton, who lives alone with Darla and his other dog Louis, said he has a renewed sense of peace now that Darla was home safe and the young woman agreed to go to rehab.
He said he was inspired to help her by those who showed him compassion and empathy when he needed it most. This was his way of paying it forward.
“One day, I hope she looks back on this story and it motivates her to help somebody else,” Morton said. “We need to advocate for each other.”