Service puppy honors fallen New Jersey soldier

Derek the puppy. (Photo courtesy of Janet Lally/Team Derek Facebook Page)

A puppy is honoring the New Jersey soldier for whom he was named by training as a service dog for wounded veterans.

U.S. Army Sgt. Derek McConnell died in March while recuperating from a 2011 IED explosion in Afghanistan that cost him his legs. Now Derek the puppy, a black Labrador named in McConnell’s honor, is learning new skills at the Warrior Canine Connection.

Derek’s progress as a service dog was recently featured in a story on According to his trainers, he’s doing “wonderfully.” While he’s still at the rudimentary stages of training-- learning basic obedience, turning on lights, and tugging doors-- he’s becoming popular with kids in the community as well.

"He is also spending lots of time out in the community being socialized to all kinds of sights and sounds," Molly Morelli, director of the dog program at Warrior Canine Connection, told

Each puppy is assigned a puppy parent who is responsible for raising the dog from the time the dog is three months until it turns two years old. Derek has begun an intense socialization program thanks to his puppy parent, Janet Lally, who has provided training and taken him to public settings like the firehouse.  When Derek is ready, he’ll be paired with a wounded veteran.

Lally says Sgt. Derek McConnell's namesake lives on in his service to others. McConnell’ mother, Siobhan Fuller-McConnell, has been happy to learn of the tribute to her son.

"The Warrior Canine Connection is amazing, and Janet (Lally), Derek's puppy parent, is a doll," Fuller-McConnell told "She's very sweet, she keeps me up to date on pretty much what he's doing daily."

To view photos and learn more about Derek and his work with a special needs visitor, read the full story here. You can also visit the Team Derek Facebook page.