MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - It's a typical afternoon as Keith Fullerton and his road partner pulls into the Husky Truck Stop in Mississauga, Ont. He gases up, cleans his cab and asks his partner if she has to...
TWO CATS: Kat and one of her two cats take a break on a hot afternoon in July. Photo by Adam Ledlow
CHILLIN: Three-year-old Creed kicks back in the cab during one of his owners’ frequent stops. His “mother”, Brenda Walls-O’Brien, says passersby often ask how much he gets paid per mile.
TRUCKER’S BEST FRIEND: Pepper and Keith Fullerton have been on the road for four years together.
Photo by Adam Ledlow
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – It’s a typical afternoon as Keith Fullerton and his road partner pulls into the Husky Truck Stop in Mississauga, Ont. He gases up, cleans his cab and asks his partner if she has to pee.
Fullerton’s not being weird though – his “partner” happens to be a 12-year-old border collie named Pepper.
Fullerton and Pepper are just one of the many trucker/pet teams riding the highways together. The duo hit the road together after Fullerton and his ex-wife separated almost four years ago and have been riding the highway ever since.
Fullerton says it didn’t take much to “dog-proof” the cab.
“She just lays in the back seat or the passenger seat that I have made up for her,” said Fullerton, a company driver for Roadfast in Mississauga. “Occasionally I wake her up and point out the moose in front of me so she can bark at them.”
Four-wheelers also get a kick out of seeing Pepper in action.
“When she looks out the window in traffic it’s great. We get a lot of laughs from people in their cars pointing. The cars love truckers that have dogs.”
And Pepper can’t seem to get enough of the open road.
“If I leave her at home now, she just pines at the windows waiting for me to come back. Anytime I go near the truck, she’s right beside me.”
Despite Pepper getting on in years, she still provides an excellent source of security, according to Fullerton.
“I was at a sleeper in Nashville and she lunged from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat because somebody had his or her fingers in the window, trying to break in,” he said. “Anybody comes near the truck at night, she’ll bark and let me know. She’s excellent security.”
Brenda Walls-O’Brien and Clarence O’Brien, both drivers for Fastrack out of Winnipeg, Man., have also learned the benefits of having a four-legged bodyguard in their cab, in the form of three-year-old Creed, a lab crossed with Akita and wolf. An unsuspecting prowler got quite a fright after putting his hand on the O’Brien’s window at a rest stop one night.
“You could hear Creed’s teeth hit the window where the hand had been,” Walls-O’Brien said. “No one can get near this truck with this dog in it.”
Creed has been driving with the husband-and-wife team since he was born, filling the void of their former canine companion, a Pomeranian named Fox. Fox was on the road for eight years and passed away not long after they got Creed.
Since the husband and wife have been splitting driving duties since 1994, getting a dog wasn’t so much a cure for loneliness as it was extending the existing family.
“I just really wanted to have a dog out there with us so we got one,” she said.
Creed usually splits his time riding up front or sleeping in the back with Walls-O’Brien. He also turns quite a few heads at truck stops, prompting some to say Creed should be looking for a cut of the profits.
“He usually sits in the driver’s seat when we’re at a truck stop and one guy actually said, ‘That dog should be getting 40 cents a mile for driving that thing.'”
And Creed is just one of the bunch when it comes to border crossing since Wall-O’Brien made him his own card.
“Usually border officials look at it and they just start to laugh,” she said. “They think that it’s really cool that the dog has his own card.”
But Creed’s list of human-like exploits doesn’t end there. Creed also gives blood once every three months for dogs suffering from diseases like leukemia.
So on top of thinking he’s human, Creed’s also a humanitarian (is there such a thing as an animalarian?)
But before you start thinking dogs have a monopoly in the world of on-road pets, meet Kat and her two (you guessed it) cats. The driver for Slingshot Transportation based in Brooklyn, Mich. (known only by her Madonna-like moniker) got her first cat as a five-week-old rescue kitten during her travels in New Mexico.
Though originally intended as a farm cat for her then sister-in-law, it was quickly apparent that the “mother” – as Kat calls her – wasn’t going anywhere.
“Eleven years later and she’s still in the truck,” Kat said with a laugh.
The Burmese kitty had what Kat refers to as “a psychotic side” and two-and-a-half years later Kat got a second Burmese (which she calls the “daughter”) in an attempt to calm the older cat down.
It didn’t really work – as the now 11 and nine-year-old kitties still both have very excitable natures.
However, the twosome’s rambunctious behaviour has worked to Kat’s advantage. Like both Pepper and Creed, the “mother” and “daughter” are very protective of their owner.
“With the nine-year-old, if someone gets around my truck that doesn’t belong there and I’m sleeping, she’ll literally get in my face until I get up. Even if she hears something that doesn’t sound right, she’s waking me up. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
They’ve also worked out to Kat’s advantage at the border.
During one crossing, Kat encountered a particularly picky official who seemed to be looking for anything and everything wrong with her truck – right up until one of her cats made an appearance.
“(The official was saying) this was wrong and this was wrong and this was wrong and all of a sudden he says, ‘Oh, you’ve got a cat? Well get on outta here!'”
However, Kat finds the companionship with her cats to be the most rewarding part of pet ownership on the road.
“They make good pets. It gets very lonely sometimes and they help fill the void,” she said. “They help break the monotony because the job is stressful enough. They bring me a lot of joy.”
Though each of the drivers had their own reasons for bringing their pets on the road, there was certainly one thing they could all agree on – truck driving without a pet is for the birds.