Roady, a handsome trucking Rottweiler, wasn’t getting much sleep.
Every night he stood guard over his owner, Tim Blevins, waiting for him to stop breathing. Blevins, a trucker from Cleveland, Okla., didn’t know he had severe sleep apnea, but several times a night Roady jammed his wet nose into Blevins’ face, startling the breath back into his lungs. When Blevins finally told his doctor about the nightly episodes, the doctor diagnosed sleep apnea and said Roady probably saved his life. “I had no idea what was going on, but Roady knew it wasn’t right,” Blevins says.
Roady, a trucking Rotweiller, dons cool shades. Tim Blevins’ (left) owner of Roady, believes his pet saved his life.
He got fitted with a CPAP machine and Roady finally got some rest. Today, Roady is mostly retired from the road, but Blevins still calls home just to talk to his companion. They are planning one last road trip this summer and Blevins can hardly bare to think about it as a final chapter in their trucking days. “It’s hard to explain, but Roady, he’s not really a dog. Not to me anyways,” says Blevins.
Truckers who take their pets on the road with them say they are happier, healthier and better drivers because of their companions. In spite of the care, cost and inconveniences of trucking with a pet, the positives appear to outweigh the negatives. Pet owners report an increased quality of life and in some cases, such as Blevins’, even credit their pet with saving their lives.
Exercising the mind
According to a survey of pet owners conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association, 76 percent of respondents say pet ownership reduces their stress levels, and 65 percent report their pets improve their mental health.
Dr. Sylvia Gearing, a clinical psychologist in Dallas, Texas, is an expert on pet/human bonds and says pets can have tremendous psychological benefits for truck drivers who are away from home for long periods. “In a recent study, researchers found that levels of ‘feel-good’ brain hormone oxytocin spiked when subjects merely petted a dog. In fact, pets served as a sort of multiplier for their happiness. Pets can even nullify negative moods, lower loneliness levels and improve overall happiness,” Gearing says.
Owner-operator Mike Greenwell, leased to Branson, Mo.-based small fleet D & R Trucking, says his Yorkie pup Isabella — “I usually just call her Izzy” — was given to him at a moment in his trucking life when the stress of the job had taken its toll. His wife “said I was going crazy,” as Greenwell puts it. She got him a bigger dog that he took back, then little Izzy. “I’ve had her for five years,” Greenwell says. “Since she was eight weeks old, she’s always been on the truck.”
One of the primary benefits he’s seen, in addition to the increased exercise numerous daily walks affords him, is an uptick in his sense of well-being, brought by both the sense of companionship she brings as well as the change she’s forced in his own behavior on the road. What’s good for the dog is good for the hauler. “I used to drive every day until my miles were done,” Greenwell says. “Now I stop two or three times a day for her. It’s really helped me.”
“I am much less stressed and more focused since I started driving with Frank,” says Joe Mansheim, who pulls a 24-foot flatbed for Elite Transportation Systems in the Minnesota Twin Cities area. He says his duck companion, a Drake Mallard he’s had since it was a duckling, is friendly, personable and quite lovable — Mansheim says it’s hard to stay irritated when Frank starts quacking at him to chill out.
The two watch baseball together, and his customers call and ask for the “truck with the duck. … Everyone wants their five minutes with Frank,” Mansheim says.
Blevins had to walk and exercise Roady and said he was more fit when Roady traveled with him. Providing exercise for their companion animals results in better fitness for the pet-owner and health benefits, such as a reduction in the risk for cardiovascular disease with lower blood pressure.
Drivers may even drive smarter when accompanied by a pet. In a 2002 study by the Food and Drug Administration, pet owners were given math problems to solve in the presence of their pets. They had lower heart rates and blood pressures when their pets were present than when the animals were removed. A different study, by the National Institutes of Health, showed that pet owners not only make fewer doctor visits for non-serious medical reasons but are more likely to have long-term survival rates after being treated for a heart condition
The physical benefits of hauling with a pet extend to security. Truckers often choose a dog for protection, but it doesn’t have to be a big dog. Kristopher and Brandy Peters are owner-operators from Missouri who travel with Little Joe, a seven-pound toy poodle, and Pinky, a 10-year-old, five-pound Chihuahua. Kristopher says Little Joe watches Brandy like a hawk when she’s out of the truck. “If a trucker even comes near her, he barks like crazy. Some people are scared of small dogs. Little Joe has an ‘alert bark’ and will let us know if something is wrong.”
[Info from Carolyn Magner of Overdriveonline.com]
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