There’s No Dog Like A Trucking Dog

By on November 1, 2013
RuffRiders

Every dog owner knows why dogs are called “man’s best friend.” But perhaps no group knows it better than truck drivers.

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

David Binz believes his four-legged passengers are more than mere company. They make him a happier, safer driver.

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.

About Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley is a regular contributor to Road King magazine.

16 Comments

  1. Brenda Fowler

    November 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Susanne and her crew are amazing. I had the opportunity to be with her at what is now Petro in Ontario Ca. I love what she does and I love her. I pray for continued success to her placing these amazing creatures with some amazing drivers who need companions.

  2. David Binz

    November 1, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I love the story about the dogs and truckers. You guys did a fine job.

  3. Elaine Vandermark

    November 3, 2013 at 7:11 am

    A few years ago my husband was on the road and adopted a little Chihuahua mix named Bailey from Susanne’s organization. Now, little Bailey has retired from the road and we couldn’t be more happy to have her here in PA. Thank you Susanne for saving Bailey from the shelter and making it possible to adopt a treasured family member!

  4. Donna

    November 3, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Suzanne’s group is doing such great work with her babies especially Poppy and Fitz!! Please contribute in any way you can!!!

  5. Donna

    November 3, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Please help Suzanne with little Ritchie and Poppy’s care she needs contributions and sharing.

  6. Kellee

    November 3, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Great job, Susanne! Way to combine ingenuity and social responsibility to both save more lives and connect people with the companionship that they need. I love this!

  7. stacey woodward

    November 3, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Susan and Michael and there band is a god sent to the drive out here I see these dog with there trucker family and how happy Thay are and love and care Thay give to all the dogs Thay have for adoption and take of

  8. Bob and Glenda Olson

    November 5, 2013 at 12:15 am

    I think you are and do an amazing act for Truckers and Fur Babies alike..God Bless you !!! We also have a Pet Friendly truck..actually Dobie is our Son I am pretty sure he doesnt know he is not human..lol I cant imagine getting in the Truck and going anywhere without him..he brings a smile to any face he sees out here on the road and loves to stop and let someone love on him when he can..we will do all we can to help this wonderful organization you have . This is the first I have seen about it and am so glad I decided to read the Petro news this Morning..Big Fur baby hugs <3

  9. Pat Twamley

    November 9, 2013 at 10:36 am

    I read a while back that the TV reality show call PICKERS spent 5 years trying to get a Reality show and finally they got the attention of someone and now we see them ea. week on TV traveling the country looking at junk people have in their yards and these 2 guys buy their junk!! Im sure these guys are making themselves a lot of money with this show.
    Please, watching 2 guys drive the country looking for junk is fun we watch it, but it doesn’t save our babies with fur who look to us humans to treat them with love and care they deserve , not to be put to death , please , please think what part you can do just a comment can make something happen thank you

  10. Pat Twamley

    November 9, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Please be a part , help Susanne help these babies , write a comment. I know these times are tough it seems every one is asking for help, but these little guys cant talk and just a voice will help.

  11. Glenn DeeDon

    November 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I loved your article about Truckin’ Dogs. It made me want to tell you about my dog, Bentley.
    In April of last year I lost my 37 year old son to complications of diabetes. I was having a lot of problems with depression. In September, I decided to get a dog to travel with me in the truck. I found a Boston Terrier at the shelter in Milwaukee where I live. He has been the best companion. He makes me laugh a lot and keeps my spirits up.
    Of course there is no way to replace a lost loved one. But, Bentley sure makes me happy!
    The strange thing about all this is, I have never owned a dog before. In fact I used to say they don’t belong in a truck. Obviously, I have changed my mind.
    Thanks for your great story.

  12. Jason

    February 26, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    There is a pit bull at the shelter that I volunteer with in South Carolina who is in need of a home. He’s been there for over a year bc it’s hard to adopt pits out. I have always thought that this big boy would be a great companion for a truck driver bc he rides really well and loves people. He is ashamed of himself if he does something that we don’t like such as taking another dog’s treat or slipping out of his pen when the gate is open. He says he prefers humans over canines and felines. After searching on the internet I read this article my Ashley Brantley with interest. Any ideas on how to get this dog his very own trucker?

    • Ashley Brantley

      February 26, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Hey Jason – Thanks for reading and reaching out! I will send you an email and copy in our resident trucking & dogs expert Susanne Spirit to see if there’s anyone she can direct you to in South Carolina. Hope we can help!

  13. Sandi

    April 3, 2014 at 5:49 pm

    Hello.I was just reading an article about your “pet matching” efforts. I’ve been thinking about getting a rescue dog & I suddenly realized it was ME that needed to be rescued.
    My husband passed away almost 2 years ago and our beloved black lab had to be put to sleep that same year. On Christmas Eve, no less. After almost 2 years without both of them and family difficulties since my husband passed, I think what my life needs is a “road dog”.
    It needs to be small enough for me to lift it in & out of my truck & its going to have to learn to like southern gospel & bluegrass music and not be too liberal minded to object to me listening to the BLAZE on XM! I have 2 young grandkids it will need to be sweet with also. But other than that-not too fussy. Any ideas?

    • Ashley Brantley

      April 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Hi Sandi – Thanks so much for reaching out! We actually don’t work directly on pet matching, but you can check out Susanne Spirit’s website and see if any of her upcoming events are within your area: http://www.musicaltruckindogs.com/ If they aren’t, I’d reach out to Susanne and see if she has any suggestions. And please let us know when you do end up adopting – we’d love to see a photo of you and your new furry friend! Thanks – Ashley

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