Joy ride

Linda Longton

You see them at truck stops, rest areas and gracing the pages of Overdrive: big, burly men with a min pin, poodle or Maltese clutched protectively in their arms. Their defiant look dares you to make fun. After all, they’ve learned an important lesson that many have not: Good traveling companions are hard to find. Especially those who listen without judgment, never complain and don’t tell you how to drive.

Abby Jo would have been a great trucking dog, eager to go at a moment’s notice. Her unadulterated joy at the prospect of the open road was contagious. Even as her rich, chocolate muzzle turned gray and she needed help getting into the car, staying home was never an option. And she logged many miles in her 13-plus years, traveling from Alabama to Wisconsin, to Florida and twice to the mountains of Colorado.

The road can be a lonely place. Truckers often speak of feeling isolated, of going days on end without seeing a familiar or friendly face. But when you travel with a Labrador there are no strangers. On a trip to Colorado last month, each break at a truck stop or rest area was for Abby Jo an opportunity to make new friends. Her efforts rarely went unrewarded, and we reaped the benefits of smiles and conversation we wouldn’t have enjoyed without our furry ambassador.

Canine co-drivers fill many important roles: companion, confidante, protector, friend. Studies show that those of us who share our lives with dogs have lower blood pressure, live longer and just lead happier lives. There’s comfort – and responsibility – in knowing that another living creature depends on us for everything. But truckers who take their dogs on the road say the extra effort returns to them tenfold in love, companionship and non-stop entertainment.

Loving a dog is bittersweet. On the drive home from Colorado, Abby Jo became ill. Off Exit 17 in Goodland, Kan., we found a compassionate vet who treated her well into the night and reminded us of the essential goodness of people, even complete strangers.

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The drive home without our girl made me appreciate how hard life on the road can be. I thought of truckers I’ve known who carried loss – of a mother, child or beloved pet – in their hearts as the long, lonely miles stretched before them. Is the joy worth the pain?

Those of us who’ve traveled the roads of our lives with dogs by our side believe so. We know the miles slide by faster when you’re with someone who’s just happy to be along for the ride.

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