A little preparation goes a long way toward making your pet a happy camper that you’ll want to invite back on the road.
Curt Wahl of Centuria, Wis., no longer rides with his longhaired Chihuahua. But the memory of the relationship between this man and his best friend still lingers.
“Having a pet with you gives you someone else to talk to, if you will,” he says. “This was the first pet I ever had that I felt like I belonged to, and I actually understood his moods, as well as him understanding mine.”
Like mom always said, pets can be warm companions, but they are also a big responsibility. With the proper preparation, you can make your time on the road a pleasant experience for you and your dog, cat or other pet, and still keep your cab interior relatively free of the problems that often accompany a full-time animal passenger.
For Jamie Serfass, an owner-operator from Lyles, Tenn., the biggest change with bringing Tootsie aboard involved cleaning. Serfass removed the passenger seat and covered the floor with towels and blankets to keep Tootsie, a 74-pound German Shepard, from making like Goldilocks and sampling the “people bed.” At the end of the day comes a 20-minute cleaning process that consists of shaking the towels and blankets free of hair and dander and vacuuming the cabin.
“Cleanliness is a challenge with a large, hairy dog,” Serfass says. Nevertheless, “I’d rather live with a little doggy hair than without my companion.”
As far as cleaning up other messes, Serfass doesn’t know anything about that. In fact, the five dogs whose owners were interviewed for this story have spilled only their drinking bowls in the cab.
In the event your pet has an accident, Dawn Habgood, president of PetsOnTheGo.com, recommends using an enzyme-based product in addition to tending the mess promptly.
“While laundry detergents that contain enzymes do the trick, those who are on the road a lot often turn to Nature’s Miracle brand products,” Habgood says. “Every trucker should have both the Stain & Odor Remover and Pet Mess Easy Clean-Up in their arsenal of pet cleanup items. Both products are non-toxic, non-flammable and non-caustic. They also eliminate the ‘accident’ and the odor without using perfumes or harsh chemicals.”
Both products are available at petsmart.com and at pet stores.
One popular fabric treatment for drivers with pets is Febreze, a Procter & Gamble freshener that is not toxic to animals. Febreze comes in different scents and is easy to use in a small space to reduce pet odors.
For drivers considering the addition of a canine companion, Serfass also stresses the responsibility to protect the pet.
“Never leave them outside unattended, check the truck frequently in extreme temperatures, watch for garbage on the ground and keep fleas and ticks under control,” Serfass says. “If you don’t love your dog, don’t bring it on the road.”
In addition to offering continuous company, some pets enhance security.
“One hustler in North Jersey was hanging on my driver’s side mirror and didn’t see Tootsie on the floor,” Serfass says. “I whispered out of the side of my mouth to Tootsie to ‘Watch him,’ and she jumped up in my lap and in his face and started barking.”
Dave Hein, an owner-operator from Good Thunder, Minn., knows the safety benefits of riding with Hunter, his 4-year-old black lab.
“One night I had left the driver’s window down about 2 inches when I went to sleep,” Hein says. “The guy must have tried to reach in the window and unlock the door. I woke up to Hunter barking and growling. I managed to see the guy running off as I came out of the sleeper into the cab.”
Just as a dog can protect you, you also need to do your part to protect your pet when your wheels are turning. Experts say that pets in a moving vehicle need to be properly restrained, just like children.
Veterinarian Race Foster, of DrsFosterSmith.com, encourages use of pet restraints devices.
“All it takes is a sudden stop or turn to seriously injure your pet,” Foster says. “Not to mention what could happen if you got in an accident.”
Some pet owners counter that a restraint can make a cat or dog feel uncomfortable, even tortured. Michelle Wolverton’s solution deals less with keeping her pets in place and more with keeping everything else in the cabin in place.
“I have a friend whose small dog was killed when she hit a bump in a parking lot and the television in her truck fell,” Wolverton says. “I Velcroed and super-glued everything after that.”
Wolverton and her husband John of Oklahoma City are owner-operators who drove separately at first. Now, as team drivers, they have brought a pair of dogs onto their 21st-century ark: Lan, a Border collie, and Nicky, a Pomeranian.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere without Nicky and my husband feels the same about Lan,” Wolverton says. “I felt it would be too crowded with all four of us in the truck together, and it is crowded, but love does conquer all.”
Wolverton’s most nagging concern for a long time was that one of her dogs would get sick while the couple was far away from home.
“Over the years I’ve made a list of truck stops with doggie docs within walking distance, and that has eased my worries.”
That list came in handy when Wolverton took Nicky to the Carlisle Small Vet Clinic in Carlisle, Pa. “The vet was very nice and got us in right away even though it wasn’t exactly an emergency,” Wolverton says.
Juliette Shearer, business manager at the clinic, says that since the clinic is located near Pennsylvania’s Miracle Mile, the office often sees truckers’ pets. “We will always try to accommodate, especially if it’s an emergency,” Shearer says.
The only other hitch Wolverton has run into is lodging, especially when dealing with a breakdown.
“Every time we’ve had to put a truck in the shop, it’s been a nightmare trying to accommodate the dogs,” she says. “Once I learned that all Drury Inns allow pets, that has been easier.”
Now that those concerns are moot, hauling for the Wolverton pack has become as smooth as the roads they travel.
Wolverton says she would recommend keeping a pet to just about any driver who needs company. The only people who should think twice are people who are overly busy.
Pets “have important needs beyond food, shelter, water and safety,” she says. “It’s important that they have play time and get lots of love. Someone who can’t or won’t be able to provide those things shouldn’t do it.”
PET FIRST AID
According to veterinarian Holly Frisby of peteducation.com, any time you travel with a friend from the animal kingdom, you should take a pet’s first aid kit that include these items:
In addition to the first aid supplies, experts at petsonthego.com recommend taking at least one picture, medical records, a blanket, a towel and a week’s worth of supplies.
Hospital Associations – Offers pet health advice and can locate a local pet hospital: (800) 883-6301.
National Animal Poison Control Center – Poison advice for pet emergencies: (888) 426-4435.
Emergency Animal Rescue Service – Can offer advice about helping your pet out of a sticky situation: (800) 440-3277.
Humane Society of the U.S. – Offers assistance in finding a lost pet: (202) 452-1100.