When it comes to canine companions, there’s no dog quite like a trucking dog
By Ashley Brantley
More than 45 percent of American households have dogs, but more than 60 percent of truck drivers report having pets; more than 40 percent report traveling with them in their trucks.
“The bond a trucker has with their dog is much like the bond a parent has with their child,” says David Binz, an owner-operator who drives for Alaska West Express.
“We eat, sleep, play and go to work with our pets every day,” he says. “And I never have to leave my pet to go to work and my pet never has to leave me!”
Tammy Prop, whose husband Steven travels with their dog Riley, wholeheartedly agrees. “Having your dog with you on the road helps to break the ice with other people you come into contact with,” she says. “Plus, there is nothing like having your best friend riding shotgun while on a long stretch of highway.”
Ready to go
Tammy and Steven Prop knew from the beginning that Riley was made for the road. A wanderer by nature, the pit bull/American Staffordshire terrier mix subsisted on food out of trash cans before the Props adopted him. The first summer he rode with Steven, it was clear Riley’s days as a stray had taught him how to charm a stranger. He just had to hold his head at an angle and look at them expectantly.
“That summer was very hot and my husband and Riley were in Alabama with a broken AC,” says Tammy. “An open window was not enough to help keep Riley cool.”
By the time driver and dog reached the TA in Knoxville, Tenn., both needed a break from the heat. Steven made a hesitant request of the cashier. Could he bring Riley into the shower to cool off from the ride without any AC?
“To his surprise, she said yes! So there I was at work when I got a picture of sweet Riley James having a cool shower. I got a good chuckle from that,” Tammy says.
Riley proves how much he loves the open road every day.
“We were at another truckstop, and all of a sudden we hear the big horn going,” she says. “Riley’s sitting in the driver’s seat and he’s got his paw up, pulling. He’s definitely a road dog.”
The long road home
Binz volunteers for two organizations, Operation Roger and Kindred Hearts Transport Connection, both of which are pet rescue organizations with a focus on transporting animals to new adoptive homes. Earlier this year Binz made one of his longest transports, taking a 4-year-old Pekingese 4,500 miles in nine days across the western United States and British Columbia to be with his new family in North Pole, Alaska.
Hundreds of dogs have been helped by dedicated drivers like Binz who transport them right alongside their own furry pals.
“When you pick up a pet and put it in the truck, you become a much safer driver,” says Binz, “All of a sudden you have a brand-new responsibility because you are responsible for somebody’s pet, or somebody’s future pet.”
And he credits Izzy, his eight-year-old Blue Heeler/pit bull mix, with making his transports successful.
“Izzy gets along with everything that I transport,” says Binz. “A lot of these dogs coming out of rescues settle in really fast, and I think a lot of it’s because of Izzy.”
Binz believes the pets he transports can feel the bond he has with Izzy, and that helps them relax. That even includes the cats.
“The last cat that I transported, Pepper, they were loving on each other!” says Binz. “Izzy’s quite a help with these animals. She’s a very, very, very good dog.”
Rough life to smooth ride
Susanne Spirit finds joy in matching the right dog with the right driver through her Musical Truckin’ Dogs Adoption Program. She and a team of helpers hold adoption events, along with music concerts, at TA and Petro Stopping Centers travel center locations across Southern California. The program saves dogs that have been placed in emergency shelters, which are often forced to put the animals down. Less than five years after starting, the group has saved more than 4,500 animals.
“It all began with this pet show contest I started at the TA Ontario East (now Petro Ontario) after I realized most of the drivers there had a pet, including a goat and a parrot!” says Spirit.
People brought pets that could do all sorts of things, including sing, which Spirit loves since she is a singer herself. She was performing at the location regularly and now her band closes every adoption event with a country music show.
Spirit still meets pets with talent at her events. “This girl couldn’t have been more than 26 or 27 years old, and she’s driving a semi by herself. Her dog learned to sing along with her. So now they go down the highway singing together!”
Outrage to action
Spirit’s labor of love grew out of something unsettling.
“The drivers told me the shelters wouldn’t let them adopt because they ‘didn’t have a home,’” says Spirit, “and I thought that was the stupidest thing. You’re killing dogs and where do all of your dogs come from? Homes!”
She knew that there were plenty of truckers who wanted to adopt a dog, so she talked to somebody at TA about setting up adoption events onsite. She wasn’t certain that she would get a positive response, but they talked it through and made it work.
All of Spirit’s animals have had their shots, have been spayed or neutered and have been treated for any medical issues. They also receive a care package including bowls, food, toys and a strong leash so drivers will be instantly prepared to care for their new pet.
A Rosie future
One of Spirit’s favorite recovery stories is that of a Lhasa Apso named Rosie, who had metal embedded in her skin when they found her. After Rosie healed Spirit took her to a show.
“This big guy from South Dakota sits with her and eventually he says, ‘I’m going to adopt her.’”
Spirit’s team talked through the responsibilities of pet ownership with him as they do with all prospective new “parents.” She watched the man walk away, happy to pair dog and driver.
“He gets two milkshakes, he goes to the truck, and about an hour later he comes back and his eyes were swollen from crying,” says Spirit. “It turns out his wife had ovarian cancer. She’s on bed rest and she could never have children, so she is not doing well. He had arranged to get to our show specifically so he could get a dog for her.”
Spirit was touched by what she saw when she went with him to the truck.
“His wife’s got her baby all wrapped in a blanket!” says Spirit. “They pulled the big rig around to say goodbye and she was holding Rosie in the passenger seat. That day was so spiritual.”
Healthy and happy
Aside from the emotional benefits, drivers often say having a dog on the road positively affects their health. Walking the dogs daily contributes to weight loss and controlling diabetes. Worries about secondhand smoke harming their pet leads many drivers to quit smoking.
“The health changes that have happened have just been incredible,” says Spirit. “No high blood pressure issues, no smoking issues,” she says, “and the drivers are so proud.”
A family affair
Spirit considers every dog’s life saved a reason to rejoice and loves it when the adoptive families come back to see her.
The Musical Truckin’ Dogs events have become bigger than Spirit imagined.
“A couple of weeks ago, there had to be 75 dogs that we’ve adopted to people at the show,” says Spirit. “I never could figure out what I was doing at the truck stop before. And then along came the dogs and I knew that’s what it was all about.”
“For many of those people, their only connections are their animal and us. It’s their center; it’s their family; it’s their home. I want to give honor to these truckers because they were good to me. I trust them to the end of the world.
How to dog-proof your truck
Block off access to the clutch and brake until your pup is used to the new environment. You can remove the barrier after he or she gets comfortable.
If you have a small dog, make sure it can’t get under the seats where it could get stuck or pinched by the seat mechanism.
Be careful with medicine, food and trash. Store any chewable items up high or in compartments the dog can’t open.
Always have fresh water available in the truck. Watch for signs that your dog needs to stop for a bathroom break, such as pawing at the door or looking out the window.
Remember that road dogs get used to loud trucks, which can make them less afraid to run in front of one. Keep your dog on a leash at all times when outside of your cab.