Cincinnati Police Canine Handsome



The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum

“Preserving the History of Law Enforcement in the Greater Cincinnati Area”




I first met handsome in my early years with the Cincinnati Police Department. Handsome was moved around from the Fraternal Order of Police to the Cincinnati Park Department and finally to The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum (The Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society). During his travels he also stopped at the Cincinnati Public Library for Police Week.

The legend of Hansome is more than a legend it is history. This history has been passed down in the family of Handsome’s partner, Officer James O’Neil.

Upon arrival at the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum “Handsome” was placed in the area where visitors would view “Handsome” in real life. Enclosed in a protective housing “Handsome” watches all of the visitor’s to the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum.  o the right of his house there is a photo of Officer James O’Neil and another unknown police officer.

Handsome was as Handsome did, and what Handsome did is police history. Handsome was one of the best “policemen” Cincinnati ever had.  He was only a dog, but his life was with the police. The complete biography of Handsome would make a book in itself. No officer in the history of the police department could perform his duties as simply as did Handsome. He made no reports; he prosecuted no cases, was never called on the carpet, never received any reprimands and never needed a uniform.  He served in the second district out of the old Hammond street station, and later in the Broadway police station (District Two) for the full fourteen  years of his life. During this time, he patrolled one of the toughest beats in the city, known as “rat row” along the Ohio River bank in the Cincinnati “bottoms”. The average length of service for patrolmen is about 12 years, so it can be seen why Handsome endeared himself to the members of the department.

It was on a bitter cold winter night long ago when patrolman James O’Neill was patrolling the riverfront beat, that Handsome first came to the attention of police. Patrolman O’Neill, better known as “Big Jim,” heard a pitiful, pleading sound like a small baby whimpering. He followed the sound and there in a doorway, seeking shelter from the bitterness of the night, the patrolman found what looked like a little bundle of fur. It was Handsome!!! “Big Jim” picked up the shivering, abandoned puppy. He was only a few weeks old then. “Big Jim” took him into a warm place and fed him. From that time on, “Big Jim” and Handsome were friends, real friends.

The pup and the policeman became inseparable, and as the warmer days came, Handsome grew big and strong. Early on, he became known and recognized as the great “policeman” he was.  He would eat only when fed by a policeman in uniform, or by “Mother Morgan,” who ran a restaurant on Broadway near the river. He slept only when the officers changed reliefs at roll call or when the officers with whom he was working went into the “hole”.

Handsome assisted in hundreds of arrests. He plodded along several feet in front of policemen, with his head to the ground. On and on he plodded, hour after hour, day and night, year in and year out. He worked unceasingly.

Detective Captain Patrick Hayes told a story of Handsome with whom he was working as a rookie patrolman. Hayes related that he and his brother officer were patrolling the “river beat” one night, when they noticed a man hurrying along in the shadows. Hayes became suspicious
of the man, who was across the street and some distance from them. He told Handsome to “get him”. The dog raced after the fugitive, who had begun to run. Soon, they were out of sight down in the “bottoms”. Hayes and his partner then heard Handsome barking on the river bank. They hurried down the hill, and there they found Handsome. The man was completely disrobed. The dog was standing over the prostrate thief, baring those long fangs and growling at the man’s throat. Jewelry and watches were scattered all over the pavement. Handsome had caught another burglar! The prisoner confessed that he had broken a jewelry store window “uptown” and removed the window’s contents.

On another occasion, a murderer slipped through a police net. He had fled to the dives on the riverfront.    The police squads closed in. Handsome did not like these outside police. They had no business on his beat, he thought. For a few minutes, Handsome left the strange police officers and went off by himself. It was not long until his partners heard the faint sound of Handsome’s barking. They left the other officers and traced the barking sounds. Handsome was located in a dark hole under the main deck of a steamboat. He had his man at bay. The murderer pleaded with the officers to call off the dog.

Then, one day, Handsome fell ill. He tried to go on, but he just could not. The best veterinarians in the city were called, but they could do nothing to help the dog. Their best efforts were in vain. Handsome was beyond aid. He died on his beat!!!

This “Tale of Handsome” was originally written in the early 20th Century, when Handsome passed away and was memorialized in this case. Handsome’s friend, Patrolman Jim O’Neill, was killed on duty in 1915, just a few years after Handsome attended his final roll call.

Handsome has been the subject of several newspaper articles. Shown below are some examples.

Compiled and copyright 2010 by The Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society and Patrick Olvey, Greater Cincinnati Police historical Society Historian.Rev 9-14-2010