Buck the Dog. Courtesy image.

Strawberry resident Paige Hillegass has launched Bucky Dog, an innovative, Uber-esque take on the dog walking business that seeks to directly connect active dog lovers with dogs looking for some much-needed outdoor jaunts.

In Hillegass’ case, Bucky Dog looks to add a personal, localized touch to a business that she says too often has professional dog walkers packing a slew of pups into each walk to make it work financially.

“I want it to be that experience where you know that your dog is being walked by fellow members of your community,” Hillegass says. “We don’t want dog walkers who are cranking through transactions.”

Hillegass, whose two children attend Strawberry Point Elementary School, says she’s deeply focused on developing her business locally to maintain that neighborly connection. She’s also an avid Kiddo supporter, with a portion of all proceeds going to the local educational foundation that supports arts, physical education and technology programs, among others.

But while there’s plenty more to say about her business, let’s dive into its moniker.

Dog lovers: you might want to grab a tissue.

This is the story of Buck (known by most as Bucky), a black labrador retriever who became Paige Hillegass’ sidekick after her freshmen year at Washington & Lee University in Virginia and was by her side day and night, even going to class with her.

Bucky would swim in the nearby Maury River and play with the bevy of other dogs in the neighborhood where Hillegass lived with three friends “who are still like sisters to me,” she says. “When it was dark, he would come home and push the back door open with his nose and crash until his next day… when he would start the routine all over again.”

Hillegass and Bucky then moved to Nashville so she could get her MBA at Vanderbilt University, and then out to San Francisco in 1998, drawn by the dot-com boom (Hillegass found out the day before she left that she’d gotten a job in the then-fledgling ecommerce division at GTE Wireless (later Verizon).

Bucky lived with Hillegass in a third-story apartment on Russian Hill, and later walked down the aisle just in front of Hillegass at her wedding. Bucky died on June 12, 2006, not long after his Sweet 16 birthday party and almost immediately after Hillegass found out she was pregnant after years of trying to do so.

“In a weird way, I felt like Buck held on until I could get to that point,” she says. “I was going to have a family, and he knew it. He was a really special dog.”

Hillegass continued to work at Verizon Wireless, part of a small team that literally built VerizonWireless.com and the company’s original email marketing program. After 17 years at Verizon, a lifetime in the tech world, Hillegass left the company at the end of 2015.

“I was really excited for a chance to try something new,” she says. “I’ve had this idea for a long time, and this was the moment to give it a shot. Building this business and website has allowed me to combine two of my biggest passions: ecommerce and canines.”

Hillegass says Bucky Dog is all about a high quality experience, with dog lovers who love exploring the natural beauty that surrounds us with a dog in tow. Walks range from $26–$41, depending on the length of the walk, and Hillegass has outlined some suggested hikes, like Blithedale Ridge and the Marin Headlands. Hillegass says she wants to avoid similarly structured, more commercialized services where the walkers are not connected to the communities in which they work.

“I want this to be something where neighbors are taking their neighbor’s dog for a hike they’d already be doing up on Tam,” she says.

Bucky Dog also offers doggy daycare, overnights and doggie errands,” where a provider will bring a dog to a vet or groomer appointment, for instance.

After nearly two decades in the corporate world, Hillegass says she’s thrilled to run a business that she can immerse in the community. “It makes everyone feel good to do something positive, and it was really important for me to do something that wasn’t just business – it’s about community,” she says.

And as she’s launching Bucky Dog, Hillegass has a new friend to draw inspiration from: Boomer, a nine-week old yellow labrador puppy.

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