The adorable Goldendoodle squirmed and licked Villager Debbie Diroff squarely in the face.
The longtime Villages Honor Flight volunteer and founder of the Hometown Twirlers offered a wide smile as the 8-week-old puppy named Major pined for her attention, while other members of her group cuddled with three other loving and lick-happy Goldendoodles.
The occasion was a farewell of sorts for Major, who thanks to Diroff’s Hometown Twirlers, eventually will be serving a disabled veteran as a loyal and helpful companion. But first the lovable pooch will go through two years of training at the Lowell Correctional Institute so that he can be ready for the challenges he’ll be called upon to handle.
“We decided we wanted to do something for a deserving veteran,” Diroff said, just a couple of days before Major was checked out by a veterinarian and cleared for his journey to the nearby women’s prison. “They will determine what Major is capable of doing and then they’ll fit the needs with the applicants they have on file.”
Diroff, of the Village of Charlotte, said her group enjoyed working with Fruitland Park breeder John Kimer to obtain Major. Diroff performs in Kimer’s choir and during a trip to sing at Disney World shortly before Christmas, the two discussed the possibility of finding the “future Major.”
If you ask Kimer, he clearly thinks Diroff and company found the perfect dog for the task at hand.
“They’re honestly the best and smartest dogs you’ve ever seen,” said Kimer, who directs the choir of about 150 singers from 40 different churches and also ministers through the Lampstand Ministry.
Kimer said Goldendoodles – a cross between a Golden Labrador and a Poodle – have proven to be the perfect choice to work with disabled veterans, in large part because of their temperament.
“They’re actually considered in the top five breeds for loyalty and intelligence,” he said. “When you are looking for a dog like that to train, you need to have that alertness, awareness and loyalty. They want to please, and they stand out above the rest.”
Hometown Twirler Sue Donahue-Osborne agreed, adding that she’s worked with dogs most of her life.
“This is the best use for a dog, to be a companion,” the Village of Piedmont resident said. “I know what good they do.”
Fellow twirlers Peggy Dieleuterio, of the Village of Hemingway, and Dee Gustavson, of the Village of Charlotte, in between licks from some of Kimer’s other Goldendoodles, said they’re thrilled to be a part of the effort to connect Major with a veteran who needs his services.
“I think that’s a wonderful thing for our team to do,” Dieleuterio said.
Kimer said the veteran who ends up with Major will hopefully find that he has the perfect companion that sticks by his or her side.
“Some people, especially when they’re veterans, they don’t have anyone,” he said. “A dog obviously brings joy and happiness, and it’s nice to have a companion and a loyal friend.”
Once Major is fully trained, Kimer said, those who meet him will be amazed at what he’ll be able to accomplish.
“In the future, you’ll see him being able to turn on and off light switches,” he said. “He’ll be going into cabinets and getting things and fetching canes that fall down. That is going to be such an aid and a help, so we’re really excited about that.”
Diroff agreed. She said she’s spent time with Marine Corps veteran Sgt. Kevin St. Amant, of Weirsdale, on some flightless Honor Flights and witnessed firsthand the connection he has with his service dog, Sarge.
“That’s his entire life,” she said, adding that she’d like to see more groups work with Kimer to acquire dogs for disabled veterans. “They’re hurting and they need the companionship. That’s why we’re so proud to be able to do this and I hope maybe in the future we can do another one.”