An ordinary dog might be man’s best friend, but Bucky, aptly named after the Marvel superhero and Captain America’s right-hand man, is also Randy de Bruijn’s guardian angel.
“I’m seeing my life through Bucky,” de Bruijn said. “He’s changed a lot of things for me.”
De Bruijn suffers from debilitating PTSD and physical challenges, the result of his time in the military from 1982 to 1986 and then serving as an EMT in Edmonton from 1990 to 2007.
“It’s a movie that plays in my head, 24/7,” de Bruijn said of his PTSD. “It’s quite disturbing.”
An EMT sees countless troubling things and de Bruijn said it can be hard to pack away those tough calls and move on to the next one. In 2005, de Bruijn was attacked by a patient he was trying to help, and he ended up having to fight for his life.
“I fought him for eight minutes and 42 seconds,” de Bruijn recounted, adding the patient thought he was a police officer. “I didn’t expect that level of violence. I know it’s there, but I didn’t expect it. There were so many things going through my head.”
De Bruijn was injured in the altercation and he had trouble coming to terms with what had happened to him.
“I didn’t know who to turn to for that,” he said. “Back then, if you had stress issues, it was like you had the plague.”
After taking time off to heal, de Bruijn went back to being an EMT, but he said he wasn’t doing well and he left his position in early 2007.
“I went mute for eight years, from the PTSD and stress,” he confided. “I felt so vulnerable and broken. I couldn’t face anyone at all. The nightmares are constant. And it fractured my family.”
But things began to change when Courageous Companions, a charity that pairs a service dog with a veteran or first responder, chose de Bruijn to receive a dog and Gasoline Alley Harley-Davidson lent their support for the fundraising.
Bucky, a golden retriever/black lab cross, was born in Israel on Feb. 2, 2020. But if you ask de Bruijn, Bucky was born just for him.
“Within the first hour of meeting him, we had bonded,” he said. “He was standing over me, like, ‘This is my guy.’” Bucky and de Bruijn have been a team since July 11, 2021.
Bucky was trained as a service dog in Israel and then came to Courageous Companions to receive additional training through MSAR Services in Winnipeg, specific to de Bruijn’s physical and emotional needs. Bucky’s commands are in Hebrew and, with the help of a friend in Sylvan Lake, de Bruijn is working on perfecting his pronunciation.
“I’ve never been bonded to a dog like this before,” he said. “It’s really an amazing thing. I don’t really tell him what to do, he just does it.”
De Bruijn explained Bucky often knows his mood or what he needs even before he does.
“He would quietly insist that we should be doing this, even though I didn’t want to,” he explained. “But he knew what I needed better than I did. Some days he has to work so hard, when I’m sick or getting medical care. But he’s so quiet and calm and he brings that to me.”
De Bruijn said Bucky’s superpower is his awareness.
“He makes me look out further than myself,” he said. “He wants me to play, and I have to do that for him. When you have a relationship with the dog, you start trusting the dog. And that was a big thing for me, to trust him.”
Bucky and de Bruijn spend all of their time together, walking in nature as much as possible. Bucky likes to play fetch and go swimming and he also enjoys going back to Gasoline Alley Harley-Davidson to visit his other dog and human friends there.
Courageous Companions flew de Bruijn to Kelowna to receive training for working with Bucky and it was there that he met other veterans or first responders and their service dogs.
“It was a life-changing thing for me, going through this training with Bucky,” he said. “In our training, each dog had his own superpower. It just seems like these dogs are larger than life.”
De Bruijn wants other veterans and first responders to be able to get the help that he has received, so he volunteers with Pets for Vets in Calgary.
When asked what the future holds, de Bruijn said he believes things are going to brighten up.
“They trained him for me, but it’s more than that,” he said. “He feels like my guardian.”