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Lisa Unleashed: Explore Newtown Police Dog History at K-9 Challenge This Weekend

Published: October 5, 2017

Decades before Newtown Police Department (NPD) K-9s Baro and Saint, there were at least five police dog names I found recently while scouring an old NPD scrapbook — Lion, Deacon, Lee, Bronson, and Thor. This weekend at the Western CT Police K-9 Challenge, a fundraiser held for the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard at its headquarters in Newtown (Saturday, October 7, beginning at 10 am), you can see a pictorial historic timeline of all the K-9s that have proudly served. The town’s newest K-9 addition, Aris, will also be on hand for a public demonstration during the competition’s lunch break.

The first mention of the K-9 unit appeared in an undated Bee clipping, most likely from December 1971, when the unit officially began. The first dog “Lion” was purchased by the Newtown Lions Club, thus his name. The German shepherd dog lived with his handler, Elliott, at his home where kennels and a run had been built. Lion was purchased in Germany by his trainer Tom Macek, who operated Canine Security on Route 202. In the photo, Patrolman Daniel Elliott is holding a mature adult dog and John Anderson, president of the Lions Club, is handing Police Chief Louis Marchese a check. Standing by are Police Commissioner Robert Hayes, whose idea it was to purchase a dog from Macek. Hayes was a member of the Lions and chairman of its K-9 Corps Committee.

According to the article: “When Lion is ready for duty he will be used by the Department for missing persons searches, burglary and break-in investigations and night duty. Eventually, the department hopes to add another dog to the force, but it takes a while for such magnificent animals are expensive.”
In another clipping, March 22, 1972, it shows Robert Wrabel, one of the original members of the Newtown police force when it was formed in 1971, when he brought Lion to the Lions Young People’s Dinner at the Hawley Manor Inn. In the photo, a young girl holds his leash. The 100-pound dog was listed as the entertainment and Wrabel put him though an obedience and attack demonstration. In another article dated May 26, 1972, Wrabel is shown with Lion, which states he’s had Lion for several months now.

According to an undated Bee photo, “Wrabel starts out on night tour of the village with ‘Lion,’ one of two dogs being used by Newtown police. The dogs are kept with their masters Wrabel and Patrolman Daniel Elliott.” What? Elliott seemed a short-lived addition to the K-9 unit before he left the force, but still, when did the department have two dogs?

Deacon

Around 1973, there is no more mention of Lion but another dog named Deacon. Deacon is seen in photos competing and winning awards at regional competitions held in Newburgh, N.Y. According to a Bridgeport Telegram article written when Deacon was 6 years old and weighing 98 pounds, he was able to jump a nine-foot wall, and crawl through an 18-inch drain pipe. He once saved Wrabel from a steel table being thrown at him in a Sandy Hook store and also barred a prisoner from escaping the NPD jail cell. When Wrabel once found windows broken at Hawley School, he sent Deacon to search the building in ten minutes, half the time it would have taken a patrol officer. The article also stated Deacon joined the department in December 1971 and began ten months of training in “searching for persons, attack work, obedience and building searches.” What?

Lee

Another mystery dog is Lee, the German shepherd dog shown in a photo dated 1974, sitting next to his handler Officer Marty Pytko. They are sitting next to Wrabel and Deacon in the side yard of the Edmond Town Hall. Pytko joined the department in 1973, so he was not part of the original unit. There is also a May 17, 1974, Bee photo that shows a dog, with Wrabel on the end of the leash, attacking Officer George Stowe in a demonstration. The dog is unidentified, could it be Lee or Deacon or Lion?

Bronson

The most celebrated arrival of a new police dog was Bronson the Doberman Pinscher in 1975. Most likely named after actor Charles Bronson, who had just starred in the successful film Death Wish in 1974, it was believed that Bronson was the only Doberman ever used by a local Connecticut police. According to the Bee article, Bronson was replacing Lion, who retired because of illness. But then a News-Time photo caption states… “the 14-week-old puppy will be ready to patrol to replace former police dog, Deacon, who is retired at the age of nine.” What?

Lion or Deacon? After a quick internet search and a phone call with Robert Wrabel, Jr, who played decoy during training with his father on Lion, Deacon, and Bronson, the mystery was solved. Lion and Deacon, he tells me, were the same dog. Deacon came from Germany as a fully trained adult dog. The Lions club named him Lion for obvious reasons, but the dog’s name was Deacon from the start. At some point, the public relations name was dropped and everyone just started calling him by his real name.
Bronson took the media by storm. At the time, a March 14, 1975, Bee article stated that the breed was known for its aggressive temperament suited for police work, but Wrabel made a point of looking for a dog with a good temperament, suitable to live as a family pet, and still do police work. He traveled to breeders in Coventry and acquired an 8-week-old puppy. A photo shows Bronson sitting on Marchese’s desk. Another photo at 10 weeks old, shows him kissing the chief, who is revealing one of his rare smiles without his trademark cigar in his mouth.

By 10 months old, Bronson was leaping out of a police cruiser window on suspect apprehensions. By April 20, 1975, according to a Bridgeport Post article, Bronson was halfway through his narcotics training. Wrabel also used him to help teach obedience classes to town residents. Bronson lived at the Wrabel home with the family toy poodle. According to Wrabel Jr, that nine-pound poodle, which belonged to his mother, would boss Bronson around the house. But during police work, Bronson was smarter than the German shepherd dogs and could think way ahead of what was needed to get the job done. As a puppy he also went to a few dog shows and won some ribbons. His diet consisted of one can of meat and two cups dry food per day and six eggs a week and a pound of cottage cheese and bacon fat for his coat.

Thor

The last mystery dog is seen in a photo dated August 22, 1980 ,which shows Newtown Police Officer Llewellyn Rowe, Jr, with the German shepherd dog Thor. Eventually, Bronson, who lived to be 15 years old, retired when Wrabel retired to Florida from the department in the early 1980s. It’s not officially known why the K-9 unit ended, but by 1985 the dogs were gone. Anyone with more information about the Newtown K-9 Unit history please contact me at lisa@lisaunleashed.com.

Lisa Peterson writes about history, horses, and hounds at lisaunleashed.com.

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