Sometimes you have to lie on your resume to get the job you want.
Every Wednesday, Bucky goes to “work” with front paws perched high on his basket, expectantly looking up, ready for a pat on the head or a cuddle from residents at Hyland Crossings Memory Care.
Bucky may lack the proper therapy dog credentials, but the 7-pound teddy bear pup can bring a smile to people with memories as short as a puppy’s tail. Well-known in the neighborhood just off Bird Street, Bucky is accustomed to people stopping in the street and calling out his name with exuberant glee and many exclamation points.
Gene Gehrke proudly smiles as he shows off his “good boy” sitting in the basket of his red scooter.
“People stomp on their brakes when they see him coming—and yell hi Bucky, it’s never hi Gene,” said Gehrke, not at all offended that he literally takes a back seat to his pooch.
Gene and his wife, Beverly, remember bringing the pup home seven years ago, so tiny that he fit in the palm of their hands. Beverly promptly named him after a beloved farm dog she once had.
“The first Bucky was a wonderful dog and the second Bucky is following in those same footsteps,” Beverly said as she kissed the dog.
From the start, little Bucky was following his new parents around, dragging his pillow and blanket next to their bed— eventually ensconced himself into the Gene and Beverly’s lives. But Bucky’s charisma couldn’t be contained within the walls of the Gerhke’s apartment at Hyland Park.
Soon the pup wandered out in the hallway, down to bingo and even to nightly buffets, always on a lookout for someone who needed him most.
“He always seems to go to people in wheelchairs or who look at little down and latches right on to them,” Gene said.
When several assisted living residents ended up needed more care and went to live over at the Hyland Crossings Memory Care, Bucky followed.
Gene had heard of other dogs that visited people with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease and knew with Bucky’s mellow nature, he would be a good fit. Petting a dog can help reduce stress, anxiety and contribute to emotional well-being, according to some research.
Every Wednesday, Bucky enters the Hyland Park Memory Care living room riding high on Gene’s red scooter, greeting his adoring fans. Some residents see the little pup and think of the dogs and cats they once had. For others, it just feels so good to pet Bucky’s soft fur and gets a kiss.
The pup is also part entertainer—donning a Santa Claus suit around Christmas, wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day and even peeking out from a sombrero hat on his most frisky days. Gene, even gets into the fun, telling jokes, greeting people and handing out lollipops to residents.
Residents spend time doing puzzles, games and daily exercises to keep them healthy, but it’s Bucky’s visits that bring unexpected joy. Hyland Campus Assistant Executive Director McKenna Jensen said residents may not remember everything but they pay special attention to the little dog. When Bucky comes to visit, she says, dementia and memory loss no longer matters.
“They live in that moment and at that moment they are very, very happy,” Jensen said.
Bucky also makes the rounds with Gene—visiting residents in their room. Those who usually shy away from company eagerly await visits from their four-legged friend.
Gene, who at 82, said it foreshadows a place that we are all likely to be someday.
“I always think that that could be me sitting there and how I would love to have a visitor like that,” Gene said. “They are people just like us—with hearts and tears and everything else—it’s just, unfortunately, we are all getting older.”
Bucky sits patiently on residents’ laps and listens to them coo over him, looking at them with his soft, cocoa brown eyes and wagging his tail. When it’s time to go, Bucky gets back into daddy Gene’s scooter basket—both of them knowing a good day’s deed is done.
“We love people, we love life, we believe in God and Hyland it’s our duty to help other people.”
More about Bucky:
Favorite treat: Special snack with chicken, goose and duck livers.
Favorite toys: Santa Claus stuffed toy.
Best place to hide when Star reporter comes for an interview: Under the bed.
Fashion: Parka and booties to stay warm for the weekly winter rides to Hyland Crossings Memory Care.