Solo truck drivers traditionally have ride-along pets to keep loneliness at bay, but why are more team drivers bringing their pets on the road?
Exercise is a big reason.
"It's a lot of things," said Cynthia Caldwell, who drives with her husband Tyson and their 10-pound Miniature Pinscher, who she affectionately calls “Min Pig” instead of a “Min Pin” because of the dog's voracious appetite. For starters, the dog forces them to get out of the truck more often.
"Logs be darned. I'm going to stop every three to four hours so the dog can get out and walk and do what she has to do. It's not good for us as drivers to be driving those long stretches. I know that we're in a business where they say, ‘get it there as quick as you can.’ Guess what? No load is worth my body or my comfort."
Caldwell said the dog is not only for the exercise and companionship, but also because “she's a lot of fun. She's got her own little personality. She is also good security. If anybody gets too close to this truck and she doesn't think they belong, she's the first one to know. She'll know somebody's around a lot quicker than either one of us will."
Adding to the benefits, Caldwell called the dog “probably the cheapest therapy you could ever have."
Petra and Jason Webb take their five-month-old Shepherd mix named Izzy with them. They got her about a month ago after their other dog died in March.
"We didn't have a dog for a while and weren't sure if we wanted another one," Petra said. "Eventually we decided we did want one again because we liked the company and also because we exercise more — a dog makes you go out and actually do stuff."
Petra describes herself and her husband as “morbidly obese,” but she lost 110 pounds in the last year by changing her lifestyle and walking more.
"You actually go out more with a dog. Otherwise you say you're going to walk, but you're in a truck stop and then you're like, 'I'm not going out here.' You're too quick to make excuses for yourself. But with a dog you can't make that excuse because they have to go outside."
She and her husband only bid on certain loads so they can walk Izzy at regular intervals. "We try to stop every two to three hours and walk around; it's better for us, because we both ignored our own health for a long time."
The team rescued Izzy from an Indian reservation in Montana where once a year residents round up stray dogs and put them down if they cannot find adopters.
"There are a lot of rescue groups and humane societies that will not let truck drivers adopt, but this organization does," Petra said.
She noted there can be prejudice against truckers, because some shelters think dogs will be cooped up for many hours during the day. "That's ignorant. If you look at it, the majority of people who own pets are gone from the house like 8 to 10 hours a day. In our case, we're always there, literally. We never leave her alone in the truck."
For some teams, though, one dog isn't enough.
"We actually used to have two dogs on a truck, Marley and Little Miss, and now we just have Little Miss. Marley had cancer and had to be put down last year," said Judy Brown, who drives team with her husband Rick. Little Miss is a 5-year-old, 16-pound Shichon, half Bichon Frisé and half Shih Tzu.
"We wanted a dog because we weren't very mobile. We wanted a reason to get out and walk and knew this would help us. And we wanted the companionship because one of us is in the sleeper; one of us is in the driver area. It's not like we're sitting up there together keeping each other company," Judy said.
"The other thing is that Marley helps relieve stress because he makes us laugh. We need something to break the monotony and to help cheer us up because at times, even though both of us are together, we get down."
Linda Caffee and her husband Bob — members of Team Run Smart — have an almost three-year-old German Shepherd named Texas and a cat named Squeaky as road companions. Texas knows where he fits into a crowded truck, but that can lead to comedy at home.
"In the truck, she's usually standing between our legs. She's real relaxed about all of that, being in a tight space, and she doesn't get upset. You can move around her very easily. But then it's a hassle when you're at home, because she's so used to always being underfoot. If you move, she'll walk between your legs. Or you're trying to cook and she stands between your feet and the stove, because she would do that in the truck. She'd stand between our feet and the counter."
Linda echoed others who said that their dog keeps them moving and healthy, but that having a dog in the truck can be challenging to the animal's health.
"If you have a vet up north, they only want to give inoculations for the summertime. You have to tell them that your dog has to be protected from everything everywhere, because they're constantly in areas where other people don't clean up after their dogs, or where a sick dog has been. The last thing you want is a sick dog in the truck," Linda said.
Aside from health, a dog's safety on the road is not an easy matter, either. Just like house dogs are trained not to run out the front door and into the street, Linda has trained Texas not to jump out of the truck until she says a release word.
“We do a lot of high-security freight and a lot of times our truck gets searched, and we have to leave the doors open,” Linda said. “The cat absolutely hates to go out and won't leave, but Texas would go with anybody. We've trained her not to jump out until we give the command. She'll just stand there and look."
She added: "We went one step further. I bought her an e-collar, because she loves to chase balls, Frisbees and sticks. One time, we were in a field in Sacramento, and the Frisbee landed by a rabbit and took off straight for the interstate. Of course, the dog's ears had totally shut down when I called. She didn't hear us yelling at her. I got an e-collar (it gives a tiny shock) just to get her mind back on me when I called. It worked, so now when I call her name, I get her attention. We don't need to use the collar anymore."
The question everyone asks is, “Where is the cat's litter box?”
Linda said in the last custom truck they used it was underneath the bunk, and they took out a heating vent to make it easier to access.
On the current truck, the cat has his own closet with a door to the outside “so you can clean his litter box out from the outside. We divided it with a piece of wood, so it's now a two-room closet. One room has the litter box, the other room has his food. This way Texas cannot get to the cat's food."