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‘Animals are better than people’: Bison steals hearts in Hellertown area, raises concern for absence

Gus the Bison
Grace Oddo
Gus, a 2,000-pound bison who lives with Nanette Keck and her son in Lower Saucon Township, near the Hellertown border.

LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. — T.J. Buss approached the fence, bearing a bucket stuffed to the brim with apples, carrots, bread and other treats.

“Come on, buddy,” Buss, 37, said, whistling. “Come here.”

Suddenly, a seemingly prehistoric beast loomed at the fence, his hooves caked with mud and his jagged horns scraping the edge of the electrified fence.

He stared down Buss, nodding his head and swaying his tail in preparation.

The assortment of treats were gobbled up within seconds — not even a core of an apple remaining. He stood, unsatisfied, waiting for more.

Except this was no beast, except maybe to small children.

It was just Gus.

Missing Gus causes concern

Gus is a 22-year-old, 2,000-pound American bison who resides in an enclosed pasture in Lower Saucon, near the Hellertown border, with Nanette Keck and her son, Buss.

Gus has been the family pet for more than 20 years, after Keck acquired him from a nearby horse farm in the Bethlehem area.

“He wasn’t very nice to the other bison that were there,” she said. “He just prefers to be on his own here. He’s our lone wolf.”

“I look for him every day.”
Billy Horton in a Facebook post

Local community members have taken quite a liking to Gus.

So when, recently, for a number of days, he didn't appear at the side of his enclosure that faces the local Giant, people began to publicly express concern.

A Facebook post from a resident in the HELLERTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA group sparked a Gus lovefest on Jan. 19.

“I look for him every day,” Billy Horton said in a post.

“Omg! I’ll make sure to give Gus love every time I drive by,” Jaime Yates said in another post.

MarryAnn Wisser even suggested that Gus be declared the “official Hellertown mascot. He is a legend.”

Keck recently relieved those concerns, responding on the Facebook post: "He's been right here with me."

Welcomes visitors

Gus enjoys 3 acres of open space on Keck’s property, complete with a flowing stream, rolling hills and as much grass as he can forage.

Bison upkeep is pretty simple, according to Keck. Her son feeds him once a day when he returns home from work as an overnight food stockkeeper at the local Giant food store.

Gus doesn’t need a barn, as a bisons’ thick coat of fur keeps them plenty warm in the winter months.

“He’ll let you know when he’s had enough."
Nanette Keck, Gus's owner

As for bison beauty standards, Keck said, “He won’t let you get anywhere near him with a brush.”

But the bison is mild-mannered and used to people, and was receptive to a recent visitor's hand-feeding and a few gentle pats on the head.

A quick scuff of the hoof and a “hrrmpph!” though, meant it was time to back up.

“He’ll let you know when he’s had enough,” Keck said with a chuckle.

Grace and Gus the bison
Grace Oddo
Grace Oddo and Gus the bison at Nanette Keck's farm on January 29.

Other animals, too

Gus seems to enjoy the company of those who come by the pasture and visit. Those completing their shopping at the Giant across the street will bring him cakes and other snacks on which he can munch.

Kids will snag a picture with him or just simply sit at the edge of the pasture, admiring this staple of American wildlife.

“Animals are much better than people.”
Gus's owner Nanette Keck

Keck said that anyone who wants to come onto her property and get a closer look at Gus can, as long as they ask permission first.

They also may catch a glimpse of Sheldon, her pet tortoise, or the several boxer puppies she fosters. At a time, Keck also owned peacocks, quails, whitetail deer and goats.

“Animals are much better than people,” Keck said, getting choked up as she gazed over at her beloved bison.

Gus stared back, as if he understood every word.