Diving pooch takes the plunge

Thomas the diving dog amazes his pool palsin Columbiana.
COLUMBIANA -- Standing by the edge of her swimming pool, Karen Oprandi drops a foam rocket into the water. Thomas eagerly dives after it, retrieving the toy on the bottom of the 5-foot-deep in-ground pool.
It's all in a day's fun for the 5-year-old golden retriever.
"I don't know anybody's dog that does this," Oprandi said. "He holds his breath and opens his eyes underwater. It's amazing to me and all the kids."
During the summer, Thomas swims with children in Oprandi's neighborhood and her friends.
"It's an odd day when there isn't anybody here," the Pueblo Lane resident said. "I love kids. When things are bad, the kids make me happy."
A love of kids, dogs: Oprandi, a bus driver for Columbiana City Schools, said her husband, Richard, died two years ago. The kids riding the school bus or swimming at her house mean the world to her, as do her dogs, Thomas and Roscoe, an 8-year-old golden retriever.
"God didn't make dogs to be chained to a hot doghouse," Oprandi said as she caressed the canine at her feet. "God made them to be your friend."
Luster and Shirley Mellinger, Oprandi's close friends, have since moved in with her. The Mellingers' grandchildren, siblings Corey Trussell, 9, and Lauren Trussell, 10, of Columbiana, often swim at Oprandi's house with Oprandi's family friends, sisters Alysha Jones, 8, and Alyson Jones, 9, of West Point.
As the children splash in the water, Oprandi and the Mellingers watch from a safe distance on the two-tiered wooden deck.
"Thomas, right here. Look down," Lauren coaxed, directing the dog to the spot on the pool's bottom where his toy rocket rested. "Good boy."
It may take a try or two, but Thomas retrieves the rocket every time.
Thomas' early years: Thomas wasn't always a swimmer, though; his puppy years were spent on solid ground.
"He rode around on a raft," Oprandi said. "He hated water."
A year later, Thomas' ball fell into the pool and sank to the bottom, and he dived after it -- much to Oprandi's surprise. "He just went in, and we didn't know he could dive."
Now, he dives like a pro. Oprandi hardly finishes the question, "Wanna go swimming?" and Thomas takes off for the sliding glass doors leading to the deck and pool.
"He watched all the kids going in the water all the time," Oprandi said. "I guess he figured if they could do it, then he could do it, too."

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