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K-9s in demand for Bristol police as woman helps raise money as part of Operation Opioid: Exclusive

Money is currently being raised to help the Bristol Police Department purchase a second K-9 through an initiative started by a Bristol police commissioner.

BRISTOL, Conn. — The opioid crisis, especially Fentanyl, has become a nationwide issue. 

Phil Vonella, the late commissioner of the Bristol Police Department wanted to address the threat by getting more K-9s for the patrol division. 

He created a non-profit organization called Operation Opioid, but when he died in 2019 from lung cancer, his mission was never completed. 

Since then, his daughter, Kristi Wright has taken over and finished what he started. 

Vonella was a man of all trades - he was in law enforcement, he owned a tailor shop, serviced uniforms for the officers and most importantly, he loved German Shepherds. 

Wright told FOX61 they grew up with three themselves. 

"It’s dedicated, it’s protective and so he just always had a big connection with them," said Wright. 

Vonella wanted to combine his love for the breed while addressing the nationwide opioid crisis. 

"We’re facing a significant issue and we know that it is one of the leading causes of death is overdoses and opiates," said Bristol Police Chief Brian Gould.

Through community support, Vonella raised $50,000 and he bought K-9 Hunter. In fact, Hunter came straight from Germany and even has a passport from the Czech Republic.

Chief Gould said Hunter is a multi-purpose dog and does not focus only on narcotics.

"They’re also involved in missing people searches, suspect detaining and tracking," added Chief Gould. 

Six-year-old Hunter has been paired with his handler, Bristol police officer Mark McGrane for more than three years and their bond has been inseparable.  

"Even without the vest, he starts sniffing the pants and he’s like dad, we’re going to work right, you’re going to get in that car, we’re going to go!" said McGrane.

In 2019, Vonella suddenly got very sick and passed away. 

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Since then, Wright has taken over Operation Opioid with hopes to buy a second K-9 which will be named Bruno. 

"I knew that my dad’s goal when he started Operation Opioid was to obtain two K-9s and I couldn’t let this go and not finish what he started," added Wright. 

Wright's goal is to raise $20,000 in order to buy the second K-9. 

She said when she looks at Hunter, she said it is motivation but also a reminder of her father's lifelong mission. 

"I’m so proud of him and I hope he’s proud of us in carrying on his legacy," added Wright. 

So far, Bristol Police has a total of three K-9s. Hunter is the only one who was bought with money raised from Operation Opioid. 

If you would like to donate to help the department obtain a second K-9, you may click here

Another way to donate is to scan this QR code below with your phone and a link should pop up for them to donate.

Credit: FOX61

Carmen Chau is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at cchau@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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