Cross-border truck drivers reuniting ‘pandemic pets’ and families

John G Smith

Leon Schreven traditionally travels alone, but the owner-operator shared his truck cab with 48 passengers this year.

Jake was the first. Another 32 dogs, and 15 cats, have been along for the ride since then. The longest journey covered 3,800 km. Then there was the trip that reunited a 72-year-old woman with her dog, bringing a bit of happiness to someone who lost her husband in January.

“She started crying when I came with that puppy,” he says. “This is why I do what I do — to make people happy in these tough times.”

Leon Schreven has helped reunite 47 animals with their families during pandemic-related travel restrictions. (Photo: Leon Schreven)

He’s not alone.

Schreven is among a growing list of truck drivers who, thanks to recognition as essential service providers, are able to reunite pets with family members who are otherwise separated because of Canada-U.S. travel restrictions during Covid-19.

Call them the pandemic pets.

It all began in April, when his future son-in-law tagged him in a social media post by a woman who was looking for someone to help ship her dog into the U.S. from Fernie, B.C. That led him down the path to the Pet Transport Canada Facebook group, where he learned it was a common practice.

“I never thought there were so many people in desperate need to get their fur babies back,” says Schreven, who has two dogs of his own.

“I never thought there were so many people in desperate need to get their fur babies back.”

– Leon Schreven

He began to reach out to fellow truck drivers through other Facebook pages, looking for anyone who might help. His wife offered a hand to care for one of the animals when a pickup was delayed.

In a few weeks of December downtime, as he prepared to sign on with a new carrier, Schreven even hopped on a plane to help deliver another puppy from Tennessee. A family with three boys will enjoy a new pet this Christmas because of it.

The Pet Transport Canada group was formed on the social media platform to connect travelers with pets who need a ride, whether it’s a dog, cat, bird or lizard. Professional shippers are welcome, too, an introductory post says.

Even if one border agency officially discourages the practice.

“All existing requirements for importing and exporting animals continue to apply,” the Canada Food Inspection Agency website notes. “However, due to broad travel restrictions and limitations on non-essential travel, individual, rescue organizations and adoptive families should postpone travel for the purpose of importing any animals, as their travel is being considered non-essential at this time.”

Michael Hofer says the “co-drivers” can be a welcome companion during different trips. (Photo: Michael Hofer)

The rates for the work are ultimately set by the drivers themselves.

There is still paperwork required for such passengers, of course, as there is with any commercial load. Dogs less than three months old need a veterinary certificate of health, and proof of the dog’s age needs to be provided on request. The Canada Border Services Agency can also refer animals to secondary inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Michael Hofer, who hauls flatdeck loads between Manitoba, Ohio and Ontario, says his trips have all been seamless. He keeps the paperwork and receipts close by, but the formal introductions to border agents usually involve little more than pointing out the “co-driver” and the nature of the trip.

Schreven also enlisted his wife to help care for a couple of puppies while they arranged for a pickup. (Photo: Leon Schreven)

“It’s good company along the way,” Hofer says, referring to the three or four dogs he’s transported every month since June.

It’s especially true during journeys through Northern Ontario, where cell service and radio signals can be sparse, he says.

“I’m a dog lover. I got a golden retriever myself… It’s just an awesome experience having a puppy in your truck.”

The biggest focus on every trip is to ensure the dogs are comfortable, Hofer says. Rather than leaving them in a crate, he prefers to have them travel in the jump seat or on his lap. The crates are for nighttime.

Although, they can require some extra care during that downtime as well.

“They’re young and they miss their home, and they’re loud at night,” he explains, recognizing that not every driver would be open to the idea. “You have to have your heart in the right place.”

In his case, he sees any extra time with the dogs as a bonus. One trip to deliver a puppy from Dallas to Alberta, where it will grow up to herd animals, was particularly memorable.

 “It was the most cutest thing ever. This puppy it was with me for six days,” Hofer says, referring to their time together as he waiting for his hours of service to reset. His retriever had a blast playing with the new – albeit temporary – friend at home.

Schreven says having the companions even help to ensure that he takes rest breaks during different journeys. (Photo: Leon Schreven)

Schreven also says the trips have offered some welcome company during his travels, mostly through Alberta, B.C., and the northwestern U.S. He admits that he can get tunnel vision when traveling alone, driving for hours without a break. But the pets can’t wait.

On these trips he stops every two hours to let the dogs stretch their legs. They eat when he eats. They pass the time together.

“I treat them as my own,” Schreven says.

“I still got contact with all the families from the pets I transported. They send me pictures. My phone is overwhelmed with ‘happy holidays,’” he adds.

“I feel like Santa spreading the joy. You can’t buy that feeling.”

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • I’ve just read this article and want to tell you what an angel you are for helping uniting families with their beloved pets. We are trying to bring our “Rico” home from Cabo San Lucas Baja California Sur Mexico. He was rescued from the streets in very poor shape and has spent the last 8 months in a foster home that has graciously taken care of his physical needs but because the lady has two tiny lap dogs – he has always been a temporary thing. His new adoptive family live on a farm full of animals in Langley BC and he will be one on one with a young man who needs him just as much. Hopefully he can be escorted home (mid to late January) with some kind people as long as their flight (which is very unsure and changing during Covid) If they end up on a flight that doesn’t allow pets for any reason we will be desperate since nobody else has stepped forward. I’ve checked with other pet shelters and was told that they get their own animals out first. Rico looks part Border Collie (a breed that owns my heart) and I know how sensitive they can be. If you know of anyway to bring him home – we would be forever grateful. I can’t seem to attach a picture