Lonnie Bloomquist of Jackson sits on a patterned brown sofa, resting his cane against his thigh, and his cap slightly shadowing his face. He’s at Good Samaritan Society-Brandt Ridge visiting his aunt, Eunice Wheaton of St. James, on a Thursday morning. He’s brought his dog along.
“Gus, say hi,” Bloomquist says to the large black dog, cuddling up against Wheaton’s legs.
Wheaton sits on her rollator in the middle of her living room while facing the open front door of her assisted-living apartment. She sports dark brown cheetah print sunglasses and grips Gus’ red leash. She’s 93-years-old, and has been at Brandt Ridge for around 16 years.
“He’s tired,” Wheaton says about Gus. “He came in and he lays out by my feet...resting.”
Gus is half Border Collie and half Siberian Husky with two different colored eyes; blue and brown. He’s been with Bloomquist for about a year, and he’s already become a favorite for patients at the Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, SD, and at three nursing homes: a home in Jackson, and two in Estherville, IA.
“All kinds of people love him,” says Bloomquist. “They’ll howler his name and he goes right to the wheelchair...I can just drop the leash and he’ll go running down the hall right to them.”
Bloomquist’s visits with Gus began with family members, specifically his mother.
“She’s 97,” says Bloomquist. “She looks forward to him all the time.”
He remembers one of the first times he “tested” Gus out. He told Gus to sit and stay in his mother’s room while he went down to the lunch room to check out the day’s meal. When he came back, Gus was in the exact spot he left him.
Gus settles onto the floor, laying on his side, with his mouth gaping, legs apart, and tongue sticking out as if he’s waiting for a belly rub.
“He gives me something to do,” says Bloomquist. “Like all the nursing homes...it makes them feel good. Makes me feel good. So, I guess, it's good all the way around.”
Bloomquist has had four strokes, and lives alone. He says his hands and eyes are “goofed up.” He also describes the journey based on his ability to move; from nursing home, to wheelchair, to walker, and to cane.
“He looks like a tough one,” Wheaton says about Bloomquist.
Gus is now his company. Their daily routine includes waking up around four in the morning, checking out the computer or the TV, walking out to the mail box, and then going from nursing home to nursing home. Bloomquist lives at a farm house on a river. Lawn mowing is the only time Gus isn’t with him because he doesn’t want him getting underneath the mower. At the end of the day, Gus sleeps on the floor only arm’s length away from Bloomquist on the bed.
“His only problem is, boy, does he shed,” Bloomquist adds.
“But you wouldn’t be where you are if you didn’t have that dog,” Wheaton tells Bloomquist. “That companionship.”
Bloomquist agrees, “Something for your mind. It helps you do something, get your mind off other things." Bloomquist leans over from the sofa, pinching and picking at the dog hair settling on Wheaton’s off white carpet. “We gotta straighten this place up just a little bit.”
“Oh don’t worry about that,” Wheaton tells him. “No one’s going to see it.”
Bloomquist keeps pinching and picking anyway before dropping the dog hair into Wheaton’s waste basket.