Rolling arks

by Julia Kuzeljevich

Harvey Cheney isn’t about to fall asleep at the wheel. Sentry would never let him.

Cheney’s Kenworth needs only to kiss the edge of a rumble strip to send the little Lhasa Apso into a barking frenzy. He’s spent his seven-year life on the road, and he knows what that sound means.

But the Challenger Motor Freight owner/operator can’t help but do it on purpose every once in awhile, just to play a joke on his shaggy companion.

On the road, without the comforts of home and the reassuring presence of another live human being, having a pet along for the ride can be a great comfort, and it’s becoming a more common practice every year.

Certain carriers have policies against animals in trucks, and even when there are no set policies in place, company drivers are seldom encouraged to take pets on the road. A poorly trained dog can get under foot as you drive down the highway, some fleets will argue. And if you don’t vacuum on a regular basis, the hair can be drawn into filters or bunk heaters.

But a growing number of owner/operators are taking their animals on the road.

A pet – particularly a dog that will guard – can be one of the best alarm systems in the world.

“He’s excellent on the road. He looks outside. Anything on the road out of the ordinary, he barks,” says Cheney, who has been driving for 32 years.

“Little Joe’s very protective of the truck,” says Cathy Donais, of the Pomeranian she owns with Laidlaw owner/operator Richard Saucier. “Everyone thinks he’s a Doberman!” Little Joe possesses all the comforts of home while in the truck, including his own dishes, sleeping bag (covered with dogs) and little company jacket.

But while a pet can protect you – hopefully with more bark than bite – what’s the best way to protect them?

“In my practice, I’m seeing more and more truckers with animals on the road and I’m enthusiastic about it,” says veterinarian Keith Campbell of the Dakota Veterinary Hospital in Winnipeg. But, he adds, there are some important tips to consider.

“If you’re going south, to the southern states, it’s important to get your dog immunized for heartworm disease,” says Campbell. Wherever the climate is warmer and more humid, says Campbell, there is a greater risk of diseases like heartworm (in dogs), as well as fleas. Fleas will multiply more rapidly when it’s hot, and it’s difficult to get rid of them because you have to kill the eggs and larvae, which can burrow in the sleeper’s carpet.

“A good idea is for drivers to check with a vet at their destination for infectious diseases,” adds Campbell. “In many parts of the States, leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that affects dogs and can cause kidney damage, is a problem. It can be transmitted by urine, and a dog urinating where another dog has been – at a rest stop – is susceptible,” says Campbell.

Tracy Shulist, an owner/operator with Concord Transport, travels everywhere with her toy poodle, Pepper.

“I’m aware of all the vets wherever I go, and they’re very kind and aware of people traveling with pets, she says. “I carry a file in case he falls real sick.”

It’s a well-equipped dog. Pepper even has his own truck, a 1999 Kenworth W900, with his name on the side, as well as his personal company identification and motor- cycle helmet.

Pepper has crossed the border with Shulist many times without incident. And that seems to be the case for most of the drivers Truck News spoke to. Few are stopped for specific checks on their animals.

Officially, Canada Customs requires a rabies vaccination certificate that is valid within a three-year period, for dogs and cats more than three months old. But if you have pets that might be considered unusual or uncommon – ferrets or reptiles, for example – your truck might be detained at the border while the matter is referred to Agriculture Canada. A driver would need a rabies vaccination certificate and might also need a Health Canada permit and a Zoo Sanitary export certificate if the animal was considered unusual enough to warrant it. (You can cross-check this by calling your nearest Customs office.)

U.S. Customs will also want to see a rabies vaccination certificate valid in the last three years, and it doesn’t hurt to have a valid health certificate – the record of the animal’s shots – issued by a veterinarian.

Rabies is, by far, the major concern of enforcement officials. Densely populated provinces like Ontario are more prone to rabies problem, and may cause concern for an inspector.

But there’s more to making a pet’s journey comfortable than giving it shots. There are tips that can make it cab-friendly.

It’s not a good idea to let the animal hang its head out the window, because it can get a mouthful of dust and get hit in the head by flying pebbles. A window guard will let you keep the window open without the worry of your pet falling out or getting injured. You can also buy specialized seatbelt harnesses for pets if you are worried about safety, for both you and the pet. They can, of course, become projectiles in the cab if you have an accident.

Ultimately, taking a pet along in the truck is a family adventure of sorts.

“It’s not much different from taking the family pet on a trip,” says Campbell. “You should keep a source of fresh, cool water for the pet, and plan to make stops for urine and bowel movements for dogs.”

“He needs to stop a lot less than I do!” quips Val Kerr, an owner/operator whose shepherd mix, Mutt, travels with him. “He was born in a van in the circus circuit, so it was zero transition for him to live in the cab.”

Getting most pets “truck broken”, however, takes persistence, but shouldn’t be too hard.

Depending on the age, most adult dogs can last as long as most of us are comfortable, says Campbell. “Seven to eight hours is not an excessive time, but perhaps stop a little more frequently than you would without the animals,” he says.

Richard Saucier and Cathy Donais’ Pomeranian, Little Joe, goes crazy when he hears the air brakes. “He even knows the word ‘truck’,” says Donais. “He’s been traveling since he was five weeks old. He won’t mess in the truck, but he will at home occasionally. He lets you know when he wants to go. He’ll stare and stare, look out the window. He’s better than some kids I know.”

Shulist said Pepper has trouble knowing when it’s time to go when he isn’t in the cab. She has to mimic the sound of air brakes to convince him it’s time to go outside.

Jan Waligorski, an owner/operator with Challenger, trained his 6-1/2-month-old Shiu, Maggie Muggins, with a plastic diaper pad from the pet store, which he covered in cotton and newspaper.

“As soon as you took her out of the cage onto the newspaper, it was business right away. Now, she no longer does her business in the truck. I was amazed how easy it was to train her.”

While dogs need a rest stop to “do their business,” cats are a little more flexible.

“Cats are even lower maintenance, and can last eight to 12 hours,” says Campbell.

For cats, a litter box should be kept in the cab, with clean litter. Cats will sometimes refuse to use a litter box that has been soiled, though, so keeping the litter cleaned out and refilled is a must.

Mouse, a 3-1/2-year-old black and white cat belonging to team drivers Gord Harris and Angela Vanarragon has adapted well to the trucking environment.

“She loves the truck. We have to almost drag her out,” says Harris. “But she’s not too fond of our personal vehicle. She feels more confined and is more excited because she knows it means she’s going to the truck or home.”

Harris and Vanarragon use the same litter box from the truck at home, so that Mouse is quicker to become acclimatized to her surroundings.

“Cats can be a lot of fun to travel with,” says Campbell. “But try to start with a kitten. Adult cats can be difficult to retrain. If they’re allowed to get set in their ways, they will.”

Mouse gets dry kibble all day, a little more than a spoonful of wet food, and the occasional treat.

It’s important to feed your pet one to two times a day. An animal that is staying sedentary won’t need much more feeding than tha
t. But feed a dog when you are making your rest stops, so that you can coordinate his “bathroom break” at the same time.

“Learn your animal’s signals and patterns. Do things on a rigid schedule until they are trained,” says Campbell. “With the pets at close proximity, it should be easier.”

Going into warmer climates, keep an extra supply of fresh water at hand, and if you’re at a rest stop, be careful about exercising a dog too much.

“If you’re taking a dog from southern Ontario into Florida or Louisiana, and they haven’t gotten acclimatized, they can get heat stroke. Be careful while exercising them. Don’t let them suffer from extremes in heat or cold,” says Campbell.

Shulist says drivers should also watch temperatures inside the cab, especially in the winter.

“Both my (skin) and Pepper’s skin tends to get dry and can flake or crack in the winter,” she says. “I hang a wet bath towel up to create some humidity in the truck.”

Campbell also says he doesn’t advocate letting animals run free at a rest stop, but recognizes that they still need exercise.

Scott and Barb Lomond, team drivers with Concord, try to split up the trip to ensure proper romping time for their two pups.

“They tell us to let them out every three hours or so,” says Scott Lomond. “I wouldn’t go over five hours. They’ve been good with the motion because that’s all that they know. But they’re wound up when they get home. They almost figure out the schedule .”

“My dog is a great incentive for me to walk. It’s good to park at the back of a truck stop for that,” says Jan Waligorski, who has just discovered he has Type 2 diabetes.

As a final step of protection, truckers traveling across the continent should also have a good identification system for their pets in case they escape.

“Your pet should have a proper ID collar with tags and a cell phone number where you can be contacted. Microchips are a great form of ID, and they have a phone-in database that’s open 24 hours a day,” says Campbell.

Lomond had a bad experience with a dog that tore out and shredded the seats and the padding on the walls.

But they have since found two new puppies, Shelby (who is more of a Lhasa Apso), and Rudy, a Shepherd-mix.

“It takes a lot of patience, says Lomond, but they break up the quietness and they’re good company.” n

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