Diesel dogs and crankshaft cats

Researchers have found that having a pet reduces stress. With the amount of stress most truckers face, it comes as no surprise that about one in five owner-operators and professional drivers have a pet as a traveling companion.

Whether or not to have a trucking pet is not a decision to be made impulsively. You must be willing and able to adjust your schedule to accommodate the needs of a pet as well as share your limited space. Truckers whose schedules call for constant tight delivery deadlines may not have the time to devote to a pet.

Some types of pets fit the trucking lifestyle better than others. For obvious reasons, aquariums are pretty much out of the question. However, we've seen exotic birds, skunks, snakes, ferrets, raccoons, and even a pig racking up the miles with their human companions.

The usual pet of choice in trucking families is a dog. Truckers tell us that's because dogs serve the double purpose of friend and burglar alarm. Even the smallest dog can make enough noise to alert you that someone is skulking around your rig. Of course, some prefer the visual intimidation of a big dog.

What's involved in having a pet on a truck? We asked some OOIDA members to provide insight into the day-to-day responsibilities of having another "co-driver" with them.

Dixie is a six-year-old German shepherd who accompanies Tommy and Jane Opliger, McAdenville, NC, on their travels. The Opligers have a custom-built 132-inch ICT sleeper that gives Dixie room to move around. At least twice a day, the Opligers take time to exercise Dixie, either at a rest area or a field away from traffic. Dixie prefers playing ball and, according to Tommy, even plays soccer by batting the ball with her feet.

Just in case she gets lost, Dixie has a microchip imbedded under her skin that provides rescuers with contact and medical information. The Opligers carry her medical records with them. Dixie is fed Eukanuba special diet due to a pancreatic disorder, but she is allowed to occasionally indulge her passion for cottage cheese.

Dixie is groomed regularly with a brush designed for use on horses, and she is treated with Sentinel to control fleas and heartworms. Dixie does her part to improve trucking's image too. She corresponds with three Trucker Buddy classes.

This is Russ and Debbie Brown's, alarm system, Shasta. Shasta is a six-year-old miniature pinscher who has been trucking since she was eight weeks old. "If anybody gets close to the truck, we know it," says Debbie. "And with what we have invested in this truck, that's important."

The Browns are home in Oklahoma City every week, so grooming and vet care on the road are not issues. They schedule rest/exercise stops every five hours. Shasta eats Kibbles 'n Bits, but prefers people food.

Heather Hogeland, Fontana, CA, says housebreaking a dog is particularly challenging when the house is a truck. When she and Roger recently added a second Shih Tzu, Fancie (right), to their family, Heather says she discovered special pads that are treated to attract a dog's "attention" at PETsMART that work really well.

Dogs with long hair have special grooming needs. Heather takes 13-year-old Callie (left) to PETsMART for bathing and grooming every two weeks, but for the time being, Heather bathes 5-month-old Fancie herself. "It's important to brush their teeth too," says Heather. "I didn't realize that when Callie was younger and she lost some of her teeth as a result. Now we're very careful about dental care." The Hogelands are home every week so vet care on the road is not an issue. The dogs are fed Pedigree or Eukanuba and an occasional "Snausage" treat.

Burt is a six-year-old neutered schnauzer that has been trucking with Patty and Dennis Brodeur, Elizabeth, CO, since he was six weeks old. The Brodeurs plan their trips to include stops at rest areas to exercise Burt, and always try to park near grass at other stops. "It's important to ask before you exercise your dog on a customer's property," says Patty. "Most of the time it's no problem, but some places have a policy against it. You'll have other chances to exercise your dog. You might not have another chance to make a good impression on that customer." Burt also likes to stop at dog run beach north of San Diego.

Burt is bathed every two weeks to avoid flea problems, and gets his teeth cleaned regularly at the vet. He eats Purina Dog Chow (and people food when he gets the chance).

Little Man, a four-year-old toy Yorkshire terrier, is owned by Charlotte and Buddy Rimes, Baton Rouge, LA. "He's our sound off security system and an alarm clock," Buddy tells Land Line. "He knows when it's time to get up and barks to get us moving."

The Rimes are home usually every two weeks and take care of bathing chores there, but Charlotte carries a pail on the truck for the occasional emergency. "Because of her long hair, mud and snow sometimes make a bath an immediate necessity," says Charlotte. Little Man is treated with Advantage for flea control and his diet consists of Eukanuba and the occasional people food treat. 

Cats are not a widespread choice as trucking pets, though truckers with cats say they require less care than dogs. Fidget is a neutered three-year-old domestic shorthair owned by Donald and Donna Pirtle of Hermitage, TN. Fidget is not declawed and, as a kitten, seemed determined to use the driver's seat as a scratching post. The Pirtles solved the problem by providing him with a board wrapped with rope to scratch on instead.

Fidget eats Purina Cat Chow and his litter box is filled with Fresh Step clumping litter, which Donna says keeps odor to a minimum. Flea control is not an issue since Fidget spends most of his time indoors, though he does take an occasional walk on a leash. The Pirtles use duct tape to get cat hair off rugs and upholstery.

Donna tells Land Line that their vet at home is good about taking calls and answering their questions while they're on the road. "We've been lucky. We've never had a serious problem that required finding a vet in a strange city." 

-photos by Land Line staff



A full-time veterinary technician and trucker's wife offers some tips for keeping pets healthy and happy while they're on the road with their owner

Your first concern is what you are going to feed your pet. Pick a national brand of commercial pet food and stick with it. Switching food brands and feeding table scraps may cause digestive upset. Purina dog and cat chow is available in nearly every convenience store and fuel stop I have been in.

Canned food is easier to store and carry, but some animals don't tolerate it well. However, animals that can eat canned food will benefit from its extra water content. Stock up before you leave home, and if you are concerned about running out of food, ask your vet what you can feed in a pinch.

Water is your next concern. Avoid letting your pet drink from puddles in the parking lot and from ponds or streams beside the road. These water sources can contain parasites or deadly chemicals like gasoline, oil or antifreeze. A good rule

of thumb is: If you wouldn't drink it, don't let your pet drink it. We keep a plastic soda bottle in the truck and fill it inside the truckstop. Fresh, clean water is the best free choice, but if you can't leave water out, offer a drink every time you stop or give your pet ice cubes to lick.

With summer here, heatstroke is a hazard for pets, just as it is for humans. If you are uncomfortable, so is your pet. Many drivers leave the engine running with the air conditioner on for their pets. On an 85-degree day with the windows slightly open, the temperature inside the cab can climb to 103 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 minutes and to 120 degrees in 30 minutes. A dog can withstand a body temperature of 107 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit for only a very short time before suffering irreparable brain damage (or even death). Some signs of heatstroke in dogs may include vomiting, lethargy, stumbling, excessive panting, seizures and lying in a prone position unwilling to rise. If you suspect heatstroke, try to locate a vet as soon as possible. Wet down your pet with cool water and drive with the windows down to aid cooling. Do not allow your dog to drink large quantities of water. Limit his intake to a few laps to avoid stomach upset or inhaling water in the lungs.

Veterinary care on the road can be very difficult to find. If you have an emergency and need a vet, your best source will probably be the employees at the nearest truckstop. Another source of information is the state police. You should be prepared to pay upfront for any services provided by a veterinarian. Taking a few safety precautions and using preventive measures will make your experience on the road with your pet(s) rewarding and enjoyable.

by OOIDA member Laura Caine