Hoffman's Houston
pawsing for veterans

Ken Hoffman spotlights a special group that unites four-legged friends with American heroes

Hoffman spotlights a group that unites dogs with American heroes

Hoffman - Patriot Paws
These happy Patriot Paws dogs are matched with American veterans.  Patriot Paws/Facebook

It’s that time of year: Houston Ballet’s packed and popular Nutcracker Market will be held Thursday, November 14, through Sunday, November 17, at NRG Center with more than 100,000 shoppers expected to scoop up everything “Christmasy” that can fit under a tree, down a chimney, on a dinner table or you can put a bow on it.

About 260 merchants, including 23 rookie booths, will kick back 11 percent of their sales toward the Houston Ballet Foundation. When you add in all the admission money, thousands of Houston area students will get a valuable lesson in the arts. 

As always, all roads will lead to booth 920, to the back and to the right in NRG Center, where the Donne Di Domani ladies will be selling their legendary marinara sauce for the 28th year. Donne Di Domani means “Women of Tomorrow” in Italian, or “Spaghetti Sauce Ladies” in plain English.

The sauce is still $10 a bottle, credit cards accepted. If you buy a 12-bottle case for $120, they’ll throw in a dozen recipe cards guaranteed to please the family, including your uncle who comes to your house each Christmas and does nothing but complain about your cooking.

Here’s why I love writing about these ladies. Sure their sauce is amazing. Consider this a warning: If you wait till Sunday to buy the sauce, you’ll be the little piggy who had none. But the real story is what Donne Di Domani does with their profits — we’re talking millions here. Yeah, they sell a lot of sauce.

Each year, after the market closes and they total up the profits, the ladies decide which charities they’ll support. It’s a long list of organizations such as Shelter for Cancer Families, Casa Juan Diego, Triumph Over Kid Cancer, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the Carmelite Nuns of New Caney, and many more.

One year, when I was in the hospital getting my X-rays touched up, I heard that Sister Angel and the Carmelite Nuns said a prayer for me. Wrong church, wrong pew, but I’ll take it.

Pawsing for our heroes 
The charities may change, but the ladies will always support an organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families. Last year the charity was Folded Flag, which lends a hand to widows and children of soldiers killed in the line of duty.

In recent years, Donne Di Domani sponsored service dogs trained by Patriot Paws in Rockwell, Texas. I’ve been to Rockwell and seen how these remarkable dogs help wounded veterans get through their day. It costs $30,000 to train a dog, and the dogs are given free to vets who need them. Donne Di Domani so far has sponsored four Patriot Paws dogs:

“Hoffy,” who was named after me (best honor I ever received), didn’t make the grade. His mind wandered and he didn’t concentrate on his studies. (The acorn sure didn’t fall far from the tree.)

Now, “Hoffy” is living in the witness protection program under a different name in an undisclosed location. His current owners wonder, and I’m totally serious, was he really easily distracted, or was he so brilliant that he faked being a goofball so he could come live with them and enjoy the easy life? (Editor's note: Again, the acorn sure didn’t fall far from the tree.)

“Saucy” graduated with honors and was placed with a veteran in need. “Vino” is currently in training at Patriot Paws. “Donne” is the most interesting case. He didn’t have the right stuff to help a wounded vet but he’s so lovable and gentle that he’s assigned special cases by the District Attorney’s office in Kaufman County, Texas. Donne works with children who have been neglected or abused, or they’ve witnessed a crime. Donne’s handler is chief investigator Mike Holley. 

According to Terri Stringer, assistant executive director at Patriot Paws, “Often children will not tell an adult what happened to them or what they saw, but they will spill everything to a dog. Of course, dogs are great listeners and are non-judgmental. Donne can help calm children before they have to testify. Sometimes Donne is allowed to sit in the witness stand with children if they are testifying in open court. Donne is brought in and settled in the witness box before the jury enters. The jury never realizes that Donne is there. If the children become very stressed, they can either reach down and pet Donne, or rub their foot on him to calm themselves.”

Donne is one of only two dogs trained for this service in Texas.