A happy pet for sad times

An irresistibly cute bernedoodle named Winston is an honorary member of the Eernisse Funeral Home staff as a therapy dog in training
Ozaukee Press staff

The quiet professional atmosphere at Eernisse Funeral Home in Port Washington has gotten a shot in the arm from a new employee that greets people with kisses, and exudes pure elation and enthusiasm for life.

Four-month-old Winston is having best of times while helping others during their worst.

That’s what Joe and Kory Eernisse, who run the business with Joe’s father Marc, were going for when they got a bernedoodle a couple of months ago.

The Eernisses saw other funeral homes using therapy dogs with some success, so they jumped in after doing their homework.

Research was on their side. Petting a dog has been scientifically proven to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in brains while reducing production of the stress hormone cortisol.

Often used in hospitals and schools, therapy dogs are becoming more popular to soothe people who are grieving.

“Grief is such a powerful emotion. Having a therapy dog like that I think just helps people,” Joe said.

Though he is still going through obedience training, Winston has already had an exuberant effect.

Joe said a 3-year-old recently ran up and down the halls with a stuffed animal while Winston gave chase.

“They were having a blast,” he said.

Families are loving him, and some request Winston attend their services.

“I notice a change in people’s demeanor when they greet him,” Joe said.

Customer visits have even increased.

“They kept coming back just to see the dog,” Joe said.

Some people have offered to take Winston home with them, and others said they would care for him when Joe and Kory go on vacation.

Winston was an easy sell to the home’s staff members, who instantly accepted their new fun and furry friend.

“Everyone loves dogs here,” Kory said.

Walking or playing with Winston even helps their dispositions.

“He’s a good stress release for them,” Joe said. “It’s a stressful job that can take a toll on you emotionally.”

Winston comes to work every weekday with Joe and Kory.

“He’s here all day,” Joe said.

Winston has developed a schedule.

He arrives before the other employees, and he “greets them all very enthusiastically,” Kory said.

In the morning, he runs around and plays in the lobby with his toys.

Then he naps until lunch, after which comes more playtime followed by another nap.

Winston likes to sleep in a designated spot in the kitchenette or by Kory’s feet in the office.

She has learned to be careful since he likes to rest his head on the leg of her office chair.

“He’s a very chill dog,” Joe said.

That kind of personality was one of a few non-negotiables Joe and Kory were looking for in the selection of their puppy.

“The biggest thing was non-shedding,” Joe said. “We wanted the closest thing you could get to a hypoallergenic dog.”

The Eernisses also wanted an intelligent dog.

Poodles are known to be smart, and Winston is a quick learner. He goes to Knowles Dog Training in Grafton for one-hour sessions once per week and already knows sit and stay.

They are working on shake.

The Eernisses work with Winston for 10 to 15 minutes per day.

“Training-wise, he’s been doing very well,” Joe said.

Winston’s rewards are turkey treats, the only thing that causes him to occasionally bark.

Joe and Kory got Winston from Wolf River Bernedoodles in Neenah. His mother is a 55-pound poodle and his father is a 35-pound bernedoodle, making him only 25% Bernese mountain dog.

“We feel he’s not going to get to be such a big dog that he’s intimidating,” Joe said.

The family picked up Winston in mid-March.

They wanted to wait since they had a spring break trip planned, but the breeder said he was ready to go.

Winston came home for a week and then was put in a kennel. Upon their return, he remembered his new owners.

Joe and Kory’s children, Olivia, 16, and Cael, love their new family member.

Cael had been asking for a puppy for years.

“Our kids we felt were a good age, so that was a factor in getting a dog,” Joe said.

Joe wanted to name him Bucky since he went to the University of Wisconsin, but he said the kids shot that down.

The canine’s full name is Winston Buckingham.

The puppy has already started to grasp the differences between work and home.

He wears a collar that says “therapy dog in training,” while he has a UW Badgers collar at home.

“It’s kind of like his uniform,” Joe said.

Winston sometimes is more energetic at home, where he has “a stuffed dinosaur he absolutely loves,” and he sleeps with a stuffed puppy that has a heartbeat to emulate his mother.

Joe said he doesn’t need the heartbeat turned on anymore.

Even though he’s off the clock at home, Winston provides stress relief to teenagers after long days at school.

“They come home and get love from a puppy,” Joe said.

Winston gets his hair trimmed every four to five weeks and so far is not afraid to go to the groomer or the vet.

After one year of obedience training, Winston will learn to be a therapy dog. The biggest elements are not jumping up on people, remaining calm and not nipping, Joe said.

“Hopefully, we can take him to a nursing home or a hospital,” Kory said.

Therapy dog or not, the Eernisses would like to teach Winston the days of the week. He rises each day at 6 a.m., about the same time Joe and Kory get up on weekdays.

But Winston has yet to learn the less regimented Saturdays and Sundays.

“He doesn’t know weekends yet,” Kory said.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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Port Washington, WI 53074
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