Freedom’s Belle

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Story from Michigan Farm News October 31, 2019

What began with the idea of breeding high-quality AKC registered Golden Retrievers quickly turned into giving back to those who’ve served the country in the military by donating a puppy to a veteran who farms.

Lonny Smith and his wife Kim co-own Red Hive Golden Retrievers in Bellefontaine, Ohio. The AKC registered puppies they raise are very light colored, known as English Cream.

When they became breeders a few years back, they decided they wanted to provide a service or companion dog to a veteran-based organization, who in turn could help identify someone in need.

A friend showed them the Farmer Veteran Coalition website, and it didn’t take long for them to realize every farm, and in particular, farmer-veteran, needed a good farm dog.

“We looked at a few videos on their website and knew right away we could help to get a great companion dog with a veteran, and it didn’t have to be a highly trained service dog, but just a loving companion to a good buddy,” said Lonny Smith. “The idea of being able to provide an exceptional puppy to a veteran who chooses to continue to serve the country by helping to ensure our food security, made it an easy decision to work with them.”

The Smith’s wrote up a proposal and submitted it to the national office of the Farmers Veteran Coalition. In turn, they connected Lonny with Nick Babcock, chapter-president of Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan, serving over 500 U.S. veterans involved in agriculture.

“We’re an organization of farmer-veterans who are engaged in all types of agriculture,” said Babcock. “From hoop house production to row crop farming, from livestock to microgreens, from aquaculture to beekeeping, our members are doing all of it. So as we like to say, we have the opportunity to lay down our combat boots and rifles and pick up muck boots and shovels.”

“Any farmer knows, we can have long days, and just like in the military, we’re task oriented, and we’re at it until the day is done. Along with days being long, they can be lonely at times, so when we met with Lonny from Red Hive Golden Retrievers, we knew right away it could be a great opportunity to pair up veterans so they can have a companion and be there for each other, to alleviate any loneliness and isolation that might exist.”

In early October, after accepting applications in what they deemed a pilot program, and carefully “vetting the vets” as Lonny Smith put it, Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan and Red Hive Golden Retrievers awarded Freedom’s Belle, the first Operation Farm Dog, to U.S. Army Veteran Greg Babcock.

In 1978, Greg enlisted in the Military Police and served 36 years before retiring. During his time in service, Greg served as an Operations Officer with the Joint Staff at U.S. Northern Command and was the Deputy Provost Marshal with the National Guard Bureau. He currently raises livestock as part of the family farm.

“After serving in the military, one of the issues I had was some anxiety,” said Babcock. “My wife had been looking for a pup for me for a long time to try and help me cope with that. Belle’s been a God-send for me and our family. We just absolutely love her. She’s been with us for about a month now. She’s a fast learner, she’s growing fast, and she’s a cuddler, which is exactly what I need in dark places.”

One of the things Greg struggles with is confinement. During his service, he dealt with disaster planning and worse-case scenarios, so even today, he says he’s always looking for it. But with Belle now by his side, he says he doesn’t look for it anymore.

“Over the last couple of weeks I’ve actually slept with the lights off,” added Greg. “Belle’s a blessing to have around. And I’d suggest to all our veterans that if their interested, get involved in agriculture as there’s so many opportunities. And reach out to Farmer Veteran Coalition and inquire about Operation Farm Dog. Don’t hesitate to get a companion dog, for they’ll be there in your time of need.”

Red Hive Golden Retrievers plans three litters a year and intends on providing one puppy from each to a farmer-veteran. Their goal is to engage other breeders around the country to join forces with them to provide one-hundred puppies to farmer-veterans nationwide.

“The freedom and prosperity we’re blessed with has largely been won through the dedication and sacrifice of those who serve, or have served in our military,” said Smith. “We feel that providing exceptional companion puppies to our great farmer-veterans is something that we can do to say ‘Thank You’ for the sacrifices they’ve made to assure the freedom and prosperity we enjoy. And so we hope other breeders and even agricultural organizations from across the country will feel the same and join us in providing a farm buddy to our veterans.”

Because of the complex nature of taking on the responsibility of ownership and care for a dog, Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan will have an open application period for Operation Farm Dog. They’ll expand the program with at least three more AKC registered Golden Retrievers in 2020. If you are interested in being considered for one of the companion dogs, contact Farmer Veteran Coalition of Michigan at for an application.

Learn more about Operation “Farm Dog” at And check out images