New London police welcome new K-9s Rocky, Jesse
New London — Officer Chris Bunkley has only been with his new K-9 for four days, but already the dog has changed the way he thinks.
Did I speed up too fast? he wonders. Take that corner too hard? Have I been in this building for too long? How’s the temperature in my car?
“You’re constantly thinking about the dog,” Bunkley said, smiling. “It’s a big, expensive tool for the department ... and, honestly, you love the dog, too. It doesn’t take long.”
The 10-year veteran of the department is one of two officers who last month were chosen to become the city’s newest handlers. Now, both he and Officer Joe Kondash, who has been with the force for two years, have their dogs at their sides — constantly.
The purchase of the dogs — a 20-month-old German shepherd named Rocky and a 20-month-old Belgian Malinois named Jesse — is the latest development in what has been a long journey to restoring the city’s K-9 program.
Without the help of the police union and the community, the department likely still would be waiting, given the tough financial times.
In just about a month, the union has raised close to $20,000 for the effort, boosted by three big contributions: $3,000 from the Buscetto family and $5,000 each from Curtin Transportation and Tantor Media.
“Obviously the big donations get us over the top,” union President Todd Lynch said. “And we very much appreciate those. But what really strikes your heart is when you see a kid come up with a $25 check. That’s the community getting involved.”
Right now, Bunkley and Kondash are using spare K-9 cruisers to drive around and get acquainted with the dogs. They’re still doing most of their patrol duties — they can’t transport arrestees anymore — but the dogs, not yet fully trained, are staying in the cars.
Soon each team will have a newer K-9 cruiser to use and, as long as things go according to plan, will be joining a regional training class set to begin later this month. By the end of the 10-week class, both dogs and handlers will be trained in patrol work and narcotics detection, according to acting Chief Peter Reichard.
But it’s not just about getting used to one another at work. Bunkley said his dog has been running in circles inside his home, not sure what to do with its new family of three children, two adults, a dog and a cat (a fourth "child" has moved out but visits from time to time).
“I haven’t seen my cat in a week,” Bunkley joked.
Kondash, meanwhile, is slowly introducing Jesse the Malinois to his family German shepherd. Put extra emphasis on the word “slowly.”
Kondash said the addition of the dog has forced him to change much of his routine. His mornings now revolve around the dog, for example: he wakes up earlier than he used to, gets Jesse ready for the day and takes him on a run to blow off some steam.
“It’s like taking your kid with you to work,” he said, laughing.
Kondash and Bunkley radiated Friday as they showed off their dogs, intelligent and playful, in the back of the police station. Both have wanted to be K-9 officers since they began policing. Both said their families are in it with them, too. And both can’t wait to see their dogs evolve in the coming months and years.
“I’ve been starting to think about how I would use him,” Bunkley said.
He used Tuesday morning’s operation on Cutler Street as an example. Police were serving an arrest warrant on a man wanted in a home invasion. The man, 25-year-old Albert Goss, made it obvious from the get-go that he wasn’t going to be reined in easily. Ultimately, four officers and the man had to go to Lawrence + Memorial for treatment of injuries.
“If (Rocky) was ready ... he would have been deployed and probably would have saved some injuries,” Bunkley said. “A lot of times, just seeing the dog, people will back down. No one wants to get bit by a dog.”
Beyond assisting with calls in the 5.5-square-mile city, both Kondash and Bunkley know they’ll be able to respond to calls across the region now, too. That’s no small thing to the two of them, who know other towns have been aiding New London since the April 2016 death of K-9 Jasper.
“It’s time for us to give back,” Kondash said.
For its part, the union still is raising funds. Lynch said that’s not only to help with the cost of the teams’ upcoming training, but also to begin raising money for another set of dogs.
Under city ordinance, the department is supposed to maintain four K-9 teams.
Lynch didn’t know offhand the cost of the dogs, which were purchased from Nordberg Kennel in New York. The union previously estimated the cost of the dogs and the associated training would be about $28,000 total.
According to Reichard, the union will be transferring ownership of the dogs to the city at an upcoming City Council meeting, date yet to be determined.
“These animals will affect not only our police department, but also the community they serve,” Lynch said.
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