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Driver Lifestyles

Traveling With Fido

By Gary Addis
Posted Oct 14th 2002 2:31PM

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Hundreds of expediters travel with a pet. Dogs, cats, giant Anacondas, you name it; some expedited freight hauler is sharing his or her bed with it.

A guy I know carries a cockroach in a matchbox honest. It's a gas, he says, to watch people's reactions when he dumps “Ralphie” onto a dinner table. (Need I mention that he doesn't have many friends?)

I'm sure you'll agree with me when I say OTR expediting is more than a job, it's a way of life. It gets downright lonely out there. Pets relieve some of the boredom and a heck of a lot of the heartache. I've never carried a pet on a truck with me, but I don't blame those who do.

Although I love animals, I figure they're a lot of trouble.

Dogs need to romp and play occasionally; cats are arugably even worse, because they need to be cats. What do you do when your cat is off somewhere being a cat or your dog is chasing his tail, and you need to get rolling?

Mary Porter, of the Don and Mary Porter trucking team (they drive for a three-truck outfit called Contract Utilities, Inc), thought my question was hilarious.

“Rebecca is one lazy cat,” Mary said. “If we let her, she'd sleep 24 hours a day. When we're home, now, that's a different story. She leaps out the window when we slow down to turn in the driveway, and that's the last anyone sees of her until we start packing to leave. But when she hears that ol' ten-wheeler diesel start to hum, Rebecca always comes running, suitcase in hand.”

I gawked at Mary not at Mary, actually, but beyond her. Back in the sleeper compartment, Rebecca The Cat was pressing with her front paws on the top of a half-gallon thermos, pumping milk into her bowl. In case I was missing the show, Don elbowed me in the ribs and pointed with his chin. He chuckled.

Mary said, “Don, be nice. Gary, I'm kidding about the suitcase.”

“How'd you teach her to do that?” I said.

Mary glanced over her shoulder. “I had nothing to do with it, believe me.”

“Well, then, who did?” I said. “I'd like to get some pointers from him.” Despite the breed's reputation for viciousness, Rocky, my 94-pound pit bull terrier, is gentle and loving (with humans). On command, he sits, lies down, walks by my side, etc. He'll even catch a Frisbee. I know a thing or two about dog handling.

Having never owned a cat, I had to take Mary at her word when she smiled, and said, “You can't train cats, silly. Cats do exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it.”

Rebecca had been frisky with a neighbor's tom. The Porters offered to save me the pick of the litter. Cats are cuddly and cute and they make a really neat sound when they're happy, but, as far as I'm concerned, dogs are man's best friend. I said thanks, no thanks, crossed the dusty parking lot to my rig, and got underway.

Don and Mary Porter and their incredible cat were still on my mind two weeks later when I ran across another acquaintance. Roy Wilson used to work for a traveling circus.

Since they normally drive less than 20,000 miles a year, carny drivers wear the proverbial coat of many colors. They drive, they help hoist tents, they sell tickets, they clean lion cages. While working for the circus, Roy's primary occupation had been elephant trainer.

Roy was leaving the Big Texan as I was going in. I talked him into joining me for a cup of coffee, my treat. I was surprised to learn that Roy had quit the carnival.

That animal trainer who got stomped by a rogue elephant?--he had been Roy's mentor and friend. Roy still loved the dumbos, but his wife did not...she gave him an ultimatum: either the elephants, or her. These days, Roy is a full-time trucker. He drives for Roberts Express.

After we got reacquainted, I asked Roy whether I'd be happier traveling with a cat, with a dog, or with a ten-pound toad. Depends, he said. On what, I said.

“Mostly, I think, on an individual's likes and dislikes. You shouldn't worry too much about making the wrong choice trust your instincts. Lazy people are usually drawn to lazy breeds, and energetic people generally go for the little hell-raisers. It usually works out for the best.”

From Roy and a local “obedience” trainer I gleaned the following tips:

To house-train a dog or cat, keep it in an enclosed space the first few weeks, such as a cardboard box or commercial carrier; let it out only to go potty. (Unless they're badly neglected, animals won't soil their eating or sleeping areas.) To avoid flea and tick infestation, keep your pet away from other animals as much as possible. When the inevitable happens, and your little darlin' picks up a few hitchhikers, jump right on it. Powders and sprays kill fleas and ticks, all right, but to wean out eggs and insect larvae, you need a fine-toothed comb. Keep your pet clean, certainly, but don't go overboard. Too much bathing will dry its skin. Dogs and cats are supposed to smell like dogs and cats. If you groom Fido once or twice a week with a stiff-bristled brush, he won't shed all over your truck. All cats scratch; all dogs like to chew. If you want to maintain peace in your traveling home, buy tom a scratch post and fido a juicy rawhide bone. Establish clear rules of behavior. Be generous with your praise and stingy with your punishment.

Above all, remember that owning a pet is a tremendous responsibility. They have to be fed, and watered, and exercised. And, like babies, even fully trained adult pets will have the occasional smelly accident; be prepared to deal with such lapses with love and gentleness. (I mean, would you kick your child in the ribs for pooping on the floor?)

If you have an uncontrollable temper, if you lack the patience of a Biblical prophet, do yourself and the entire animal kingdom a favor: buy a pet rock instead.

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