Bill Swift’s pedigree as a doggie-meetup organizer is known far and wide.
And after three years of learning the ropes, he’s more ready than ever to run the fourth Goldens on the Green on Sunday, an annual dog-lovers event at Amherst Village Green.
His venture to raise money for charity hasn’t been without a few hiccups, but the number of attendees, human and canine, remains strong.
This year he’s again expecting about 300 to 400 people, about the same as last year.
Even so, this time he’s really prepared.
“I need porta-potties. That’s new on my expense list,” says Swift, who personally funds much of the event.
Swift, a former engineer and program manager, was inspired to create Goldens on the Green after adopting his fur-ever friend, a golden named Nellie, in 2019. He wanted to meet other owners of the friendly breed, but also was spurred to raise money for charity after hearing about 100 goldens that had been rescued from inhumane conditions in the state.
In past years, Swift has donated proceeds to the Humane Society for Greater Nashua. This year, he partnered with Operation Delta Dog, a Hollis nonprofit that trains rescue dogs to help veterans with PTSD, anxiety, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, depression and other issues.
Julia Keenan, who met Swift three years ago, is marketing director at Operation Delta Dog. She’s been helping Swift plan the event.
“I can’t take credit, though. He’s the man behind this event and it’s his passion project,” Keenan says about Swift.
Keenan, who has two golden retrievers, Kash and Dexter, believes the organization has veterans’ best interests at heart.
“They never ask for a penny from their veterans. Yet they still manage to give them the resources and community our veterans need to recapture their dreams and goals,” she says in an email.
Dogs and their owners from across New England attend Goldens on the Green, including Leslie Walker Ashcraft of Mont Vernon with her golden, Buckley, 7.
“Goldens are the dream dog. They are goofy, smart, loving. And they’ll do anything for you. He’s my little shadow,” she says.
The reason for their return is obvious.
“All colors, sizes, happy personalities, and they all have the signature ‘Golden smiles!’ I’ve been helping Bill Swift every year. Buckley loves meeting the other goldies and their families,” Ashcraft writes.
Buckley is a therapy dog at Southern New Hampshire Medical Center and at Amherst Library, where kids can read to him.
“He’s very non-threatening. It helps them become better readers or feel more confident reading to a dog. Sometimes they just want to sit with him and look at the pictures and talk to him,” Ashcraft says.
Buckley loves the attention.
“(He) just doesn’t move, and the kids come over closer and pet his tail, pet his back, pet his head. It’s really cool to watch. I call it … it’s his magic,” Ashcraft says.
Her friend, Sheila Fredette Upson of Merrimack, has decided her senior golden, Wesley, 12, will sit it out this year. She’s concerned about the recent outbreak of a respiratory virus coupled with Wesley’s advanced age.
But Wesley’s human owners still plan to attend.
“I think my husband and I might go without the dogs, because we love it. I mean, there’s gonna be like a hundred goldens there, what’s not to love?” she says.
Some dogs dress up or wear bandanas for the event, and Fredette Upson donated a few of her homemade embroidered bandanas, like the one Wesley wears, to Swift’s online fundraiser. The bandanas say “Loved at first sight.”
A kissing booth and the pool diving event are back by popular demand, and Swift also is adding an agility course.
The kissing booth, where goldens can offer free smooches and get their picture taken, is just one of Ashcraft’s and Buckley’s favorite events.
“I’m sure Buckley wishes it was a real pool. He loves swimming,” says Ashcraft.
During Simon Says at 1:30, goldens and their owners are put to the test.
“We all make a huge circle, and for 100 goldens and 300 people, it’s a big circle,” says Swift.
Those who follow traditional commands of “Simon says stand” or “Simon says sit” will advance. Those who don’t will sit in the proverbial corner.
New participants this year should keep an eye out for last year’s Simon Says champion, Zaya.
“Zaya is a championship dog with more titles than your doctor, your lawyer and my dentist put together have. I mean, Zaya is unbelievable,” says Swift.
Winning dogs receive a framed certificate, while top dog — the best therapy or service dog — gets a gold medal. That dog goes in the center of the circle and the owner talks about how their dog has helped others.
Each year, Goldens on the Green welcomes a grand marshal who leads the final activity, a parade around the town green. “Big Mike” is this year’s parade grand marshal.
“Bill will pass out some flags to the kids. And we walk all around the circle together, and he’s got music blaring. That’s fun to watch,” says Ashcraft.
Last year’s grand marshal was Crackers, “the town goose of Amherst.”
While all dogs are welcome, Goldens on the Green mainly celebrates the golden retriever, a breed known for its friendly demeanor, loving nature and bright golden coat.
Swift acknowledges that some squawk about the perceived favoritism.
“Oh, It’s a great cause. And yes, it’s welcome; but also, it’s not welcome. I always get the ‘Oh, it should be open to all dogs. It should be open to Labrador retrievers. It should be open to border collies.’ (The event) would get too big.”
“Bill really puts in a lot of time and energy putting this together for the goldens,” Ashcraft says.
Swift insists all canine attendees get along.
“In the three years that I’ve had this, with 100 golden retrievers marching 6 feet apart down a pathway, we’ve never had a dog bark. We’ve never had a dog fight. It’s always been peace and harmony. And when you bring in other dogs that you don’t know … No, the answer’s no.”
But what about the huge gaggle of goldens? They must make a lot of racket.
Though some residents might beg to differ, Swift says it’s tranquil.
“They’re a very social dog. They want to be with people. Yes, they romp around and chase each other. But they don’t get in dogfights,” says Swift.
If someone does “let the dogs out,” Swift plans to muzzle the volume.
“I minimize my risk of anybody complaining by only having noise at the end of the show,” he says, reasoning that he can just respond with: “Sorry, you’re too late. It’s over. Maybe next year.”
Goldens on the Green is Oct. 23 at Amherst Village Green, 6 Church St., from 1-3 p.m. Check-in is at 12:30. The award ceremony is at 2:15.
Proceeds benefit Operation Delta Dog.