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“ The traveling zoo ”: life on the road, with pets by their side

It can be lonely on the road, but Rebecca Washington, a long-distance trucker who is sometimes away from home for months, has Ziggy, Polly, Junior and Tucker for the ride: her “rig dogs”.

“People call me the traveling zoo,” she says.

“We are often far from our families,” added Washington, 53, whose home base is Springfield, Missouri, and whose children grew up with their own children. “Animals are great companions and walking dogs to truck stops is a great way to lose weight and stay healthy. I remove them two at a time. It’s a routine.

Long-haul trucking companies generally don’t complain about pets on the road, and some even encourage them, as happier drivers are more likely to stick around. The nationwide driver shortage is acute and the coronavirus has only made matters worse.

“Cargo volume is back to where it was before the pandemic,” said Avery Vise, vice president of trucking at FTR Transportation Intelligence. “However, wage employment in trucking is still 3.2% lower than February of last year, and the industry has reduced only about half of the wage jobs it lost. There is a lot of stress in the system. “

Carrying pets is “fairly common” for truckers, Vise said. FleetOwner magazine reported in 2013 that over 60% were pet owners, “40% of them taking their pets with them on the road”.

Those numbers still hold up, said Wendy Miller, editor-in-chief of The Trucker, a newspaper and website.

“Of the drivers I interviewed,” she said, “I would say the vast majority of them own pets and many take them on the road.” Drivers who own their trucks have more leeway to bring a best friend, Ms. Miller said.

When asked if there were any regulations regarding pets on interstate trucks, Duane DeBruyne, a spokesperson for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, simply replied, “No.” But some trucking companies impose weight limits on pets or ban certain breeds, and others require a deposit against damage to company-owned trucks.

Ms Washington, who drives for the Road Legends trucking company and is an avid participant in a private Facebook group called Trucking Fur Babies, encountered large platforms with monkeys, little pigs, parrots and more on board. “A lady had a hedgehog,” she said.

And then there’s Sarah Giles, 27, from Breckenridge, Texas. She drives for all freight carriers and carries a pair of dogs – and, until recently, six parakeets.

“They are funny little birds – each has their own unique personality and characteristics,” said Ms. Giles, who built an elaborate jungle gym for them.

Unfortunately, the parakeets found dangerous escape routes, so Mrs. Giles relocated them and brought in Bonnie, a larger green-cheeked conure parakeet.

“They are about a foot long, are as intelligent as a 4-year-old and very affectionate,” she says. “Bonnie wants to be with me all the time, insists on whatever she wants and doesn’t like strangers near the truck.”

Ms. Giles’ routes are mostly long trips on the East Coast. “The driving part is easy – the mental part is the hardest part,” she said. “You are alone with yourself for long periods of time and having a companion helps. A little push of happiness gets you through. She said the dogs were also good protection for a single woman on the road.

Frank Wehmeyer, 51, calls Paducah, Ky., Home when he’s off the road. Okie (a corgi) and Bear (a Pekingese-Dachshund mix) are his traveling companions, and together they’ve been to all of the lower 48 states, plus Alaska and Canada.

Mr Wehmeyer first traveled with a canine companion 17 years ago, when his wife at the time was out of town and did not want to keep her dog in a kennel.

“It worked well, and I wanted to do it again, but my wife said, ‘Get your own dog.’” It was Lucy, a corgi who rode with Mr. Wehmeyer for 12 years.

“They like to see what’s going on, so they tune in with the engine, the cruise control, the brakes,” he says. “They know we are heading for a rest area.” Mr. Wehmeyer ordered his Mack Anthem truck with rubber mats instead of mats. “Corgis shed,” he said.

Pets are part of the picture even when husbands and wives travel together. Austin and Krystal Martin are originally from Texas but are on the road most of the time, driving a Freightliner Cascadia truck for FedEx Custom Critical at 3,000 miles or more per week – these days carrying Covid-19 vaccines, among other specialty cargo. . Along the way is Clutch, 9, a mixed-breed cat who got along well with Chassis, a Westie-like dog who was once part of the crew.

“She passed away in Memphis,” said Austin Martin, 42, noting that the couple had received 300 to 400 condolences from other truckers.

Although the couple travel together, “when I wake up Austin is sleeping,” said Krystal Martin, 50. “Animals are a great emotional support. I drive at nights, and sometimes when I get to a big city I get anxious, and Clutch knows mom is upset – she will jump on my lap to be petted.

Jenniffer Hancock from Madisonville, Ky., Also travels with a cat, an orange tabby named Sheldon, who made the concept of the pet a high-level art.

“His nickname is Mudflap because when we take him on a harness in the falls he will have to sniff all the mud flaps on the trailer,” she says. “In the terminal, all the dispatchers know it.”

Sheldon, who just showed up at Ms Hancock’s home one day, likes to stick his head out the window at speeds below 45 mph and is pretty picky about it. It has a special place in the right corner of the dashboard.

Kelly and Robyn Brunson from Tooele, Utah drive the 2013 Peterbilt 389 they own for Godfrey Trucking, sharing their space with Truffles, a mini American pig.

“We chose a pig for the truck because it’s clean and doesn’t smell good,” said Brunson.

“Staff and drivers have all come to love truffles,” she added. “She gets up every morning at 8 am for her breakfast of pork meatballs and fruit, and loves to burrow into the sleeper’s pillows and blankets. It goes everywhere we go, including 48 states. “

Persuading pet shelters and rescue centers to let truckers adopt animals may be a bigger hurdle than getting trucking companies to allow companions of pets, said Shannon Ashley, another FedEx Custom Critical driver.

“It was aggravating,” she said. “We had to go to a dozen different shelters and rescues with applications, to make us say no. We had to live within miles of the organization, or they had mandatory home / yard checks. We don’t have a house. Our truck is our home!

Jim Mason, board member of the Two Mauds Foundation, which gives grants to animal shelters, echoed the sentiment: “They’re not all like that, but some are so strict no one is. good enough to adopt their animals. “

To discriminate against truck drivers is a mistake, Mr. Mason said, because “dogs want to be with their human companions as much as they can.”

“Nothing makes them happier,” he continued. “It’s absolutely better for the dog than being locked up in the house while their owners are at work.”

Lindsay Hamrick, director of shelter outreach and engagement at the Humane Society in the United States, agrees.

“For anyone who wants to adopt, there is a match for that person,” she said. “I can’t think of a better life for a dog who enjoys riding in a vehicle than being with its owner 24/7. And some housing policies are indeed too restrictive. Requiring a fenced yard, for example, eliminates a lot of people who could give dogs good homes. The Humane Society operates an Adopters Welcome site to help change adoption policies.

Given the shortage of drivers, it is likely that trends will continue to favor the authorization of pets. According to William B. Cassidy, editor who covers trucking for The Journal of Commerce, “Many companies are trying to become more driver-centric, and allowing pet ownership is one of them.”

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