So when he found the person who stole his beloved dog, Darla, and discovered she was addicted to fentanyl, he knew what to do: pay for her rehab and help save her life.
In June, Morton was working in his home office in Cranbrook, British Columbia, while Darla, a 3-year-old Chinese shar-pei, was sunbathing on the deck.
While he was working, Morton heard a loud noise, followed by the sound of his gate opening.
“I look out the window and I don’t see Darla anymore. I ran down the stairs and up to the deck, Darla was gone, and I saw a blue Ford truck drive back out and run off,” Morton, 35, told CNN .
When Darla was stolen, Morton’s life ended, he says – nothing mattered but finding her.
“I didn’t think I’d ever get her back or see her again,” he said, holding back his tears. “I thought she was going to end up in a fighting ring or something worse. I thought she was gone for good.’
“I knew in my heart that this person had Darla”
Morton called the police immediately after Darla disappeared. They advised him to start a social media search.
But then he got a tip that he hoped would be real.
A woman said she saw the same truck, an older model blue Ford, parked in the parking lot of a car shop with a dog in it.
“So I drove over there and saw the truck and, long story short, Darla wasn’t there,” Morton said. “I was very excited and accusatory towards the gentleman who was in the vehicle. At that point I was sure it was him, so I wasn’t nice.”
But a day later, Morton got a call from a blocked number.
“I picked it up and all I heard was what sounded like a young lady crying,” he said. “I knew in my heart that this person had Darla. I told her I wasn’t mad at her… and that I would take the reward money and come to her.”
Morton called the police. Despite their efforts to accompany him to the meeting place, Morton decided to see the person alone so she wouldn’t get scared and try to run away.
When he got there, the first thing he saw was Darla.
“The moment I saw her, I ran up to her and picked her up. It almost felt too good to be true,” Morton said. “She was so happy to see me. We were so happy to see each other.”
But when he looked at the young woman who had brought his dog, he said he recognized an old version of himself in her eyes.
“She was clearly addicted to drugs,” he said. “I gave her a hug and she said, ‘Why would you hug a piece of shit like me?'”
Morton told her, “I was addicted to drugs for years. I know what you’re doing. I know what you’re doing. I completely forgive you.”
Rather than give her the reward money, fearing she’d spend it on drugs, Morton asked if he could pay her to go to rehab.
She said yes and the couple hugged and cried together.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesman Sgt. Chris Manseau confirmed the story to CNN.
“They had a conversation and he got the dog back. There was talk of a reward,” Manseau said. “The owner didn’t want to press charges against the person who brought the dog back. That person tried to involve other people. But we couldn’t determine that.”
His own battle with drugs
After growing up in Red Deer, Alberta, where he was surrounded by people who were addicted to fentanyl, Morton became involved in gangs and drugs.
He says he was addicted to fentanyl at the age of 24.
After trying to detox 16 times, Morton says he gave up and tried to kill himself.
“I didn’t do anything good with my life. Everything fell apart for me,” he said. “I had nothing.”
At one point, Morton, who was also a drug dealer, was taken hostage, shot and stabbed, he says. He escaped with a machete in his head, he says. After doctors successfully removed the machete, his only concern was getting out of the hospital and getting high.
“I had to get high not to get dope sick. It’s every fentanyl addict’s biggest fear, trying to quit and deal with the withdrawal symptoms,” Morton said. “That’s where I was in life.”
Days after the incident, as he walked home and passed a pay phone, Morton remembered the phone number of Tricia Hedrick, a family friend who was also a drug rehabilitation specialist.
“It was one of those moments that people always talk about, like God is trying to tell you something,” Morton said. “I just went up to her and dialed her number. When she answered, she said, “Brayden, your parents think you’re dead. You have to try one more time to get clean.'”
He planned to get on a bus the next day. But the night haunted him with doubts, he says. He thought he would never get clean.
“I packed a lot of booze, fentanyl and sleeping pills and that night I took everything. I said to myself, ‘If I don’t die and somehow wake up, I’m going to rehab.’ I don’t know how or what happened, but I woke up.”
Morton says he quit drugs and never went back.
Paying for her rehabilitation and recovery
Despite his joy at reuniting with Darla, something in Morton still felt broken.
After speaking to the young woman Darla had taken, who wished to remain anonymous, Morton discovered that she had been addicted to drugs since she was 16.
She had stolen Darla for $150 offered by people looking for a Chinese shar-pei, most likely for breeding purposes, Morton told him. When she saw Darla’s Facebook post, she told him she didn’t have the heart to do it and stole the dog back for him.
“I was so happy to have my dog back, but I was so heartbroken by this kid,” Morton said. “It was just so messed up.”
Susan Hogarth, the executive director of addiction treatment at the rehab, confirmed to CNN that Morton has made a deposit to reserve a bed for the young woman and that he will pay for her medical and rehabilitation treatment when she arrives.
“As soon as she shows up, she will be flown by Westminster House for treatment,” Hogarth said. “She will receive immediate medical attention and medication to stabilize. We regularly work with Brayden, who is a great support.”
Although he told the girl that he paid for her admission to the rehab center and even bought her plane ticket there, she canceled her admission to the center three times, Morton says.
“I did the same thing before,” Morton said. “It’s not easy going to rehab, but I’m not going to give her up. She knows this offer will always be there, when she’s ready, it’s paid and it’s a fact.”
On the same day, on his way home, Morton caught a glimpse of the blue truck and the owner he had falsely accused of stealing from Darla. Hoping to apologize, he stopped beside him.
“I came here to apologize. I know it wasn’t you who stole Darla,” Morton told him.
To his surprise, the couple quickly became friends. The truck owner shared his own difficult story. He was homeless and had recently caught his wife having an affair. He decided to leave immediately — he took his two dogs and drove aimlessly until he reached Cranbrook.
When the two said goodbye and Morton pulled out of the parking lot, he made a U-turn, returned to the man and told him to follow him to a hotel where Morton would pay for a week’s stay.
“I just wanted to help him get back on the ground,” Morton said.
Morton stays in touch with both people, who he says taught him invaluable lessons — and reminded him of the importance of helping people who may not have anyone else to turn to.
“It was very humble, and actually those people helped me too,” he said. “I went through some personal things at that time and it was very emotional and they warmed my heart. I’m grateful to them.”