Car Culture: Call this job Driving Miss Doggy
Many of us desk-bound driving enthusiasts sometimes wonder how we could make a living tooling along behind a wheel all day instead of a computer.
Pondered a chauffeur’s license or Uber gig but can’t stand the thought of endless chit-chat with your riders? Daunted by the size of the big rigs? Can’t contemplate the endless stop-and-go traffic faced by parcel carriers?
One interesting niche for motoring mavens with none of the downsides of all of the above is in the pet transport business. A goodly number of specialty firms will whisk FiFi or Fido to the vet’s office or nationwide, depending on your needs, and they vie in terms of the level of pampering and comfort for your dog, cat or bird to enjoy en route.
“The trip is like a fun vacation” quips a beagle on the website of Kentucky-based TLC Pet Transport. For the pets, perhaps, but owner Gale Lang, who started TLC nearly 17 years ago, says she runs a tight ship when it comes to promptness and safety.
“You need good staying power,” she said. “Our drivers are expected to put in 12 hours a day. And you have to like being with the animals, because if you stop at a motel they probably are going to be in bed with you.”
Driver Doug Barrier has been known to put in more than 10,000 miles a month but the lifelong animal lover and former car salesman says the role is a perfect fit.
“I wish I had retired and started doing this earlier,” said Barrier, who chauffeurs pets around in his Chrysler Town & Country minivan. “It’s the best job I could ever think of.”
Lang employs 11 drivers and keeps them burning up the miles whisking animals forth and back across the country — most because of permanent owner relocations but some animals are moved to join families on vacation or catch up with warm-weather snowbirds in winter.
TLCferries more than 3,000 animals a year to their destinations, Lang says, and operates two coast-to-coast trips a month, along with other routes for group transport where animals from several different owners make the trip together. Private transport of the same pets from a sole family also are available.
The firm, like other reputable pet transport services, is licensed for animal handling by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A trade group, the International Pet and Animal Transportation Association, posts best-practices information and other resources for consumers on its website (www.ipata.org)
TLC drivers are trained in administering pills and giving injections to diabetic pets, they must provide late-model minivans (no old clunkers) and dogs are walked every four hours. At night, they snooze in motels or, if they have too many four-legged riders for that, at truck stops and rest areas.
In return, drivers make a good wage — Lang says hers earn $65,000-$85,000 a year, adding that pet-loving customers aren’t deterred by per-mile fees that can exceed $3,000 for a cross-country private transport. You can’t be too squeamish about species, she warns.
“We’ve carried snakes, ferrets, hamsters, rats, mice, tarantulas, hermit crabs, fish and a pig,” said Lang. “You name it, we’ve moved it. But we’ll never do a pig again,” she added, noting that the porker’s toilet habits posed a bit of a problem. “Maybe baby pigs would be OK, but no more big ones.”
Barrier said he loves them all and will even take animals to his Salem, Illinois, home if the animals’ owners are delayed in transit. He has poignant memories of delivering disabled and blind animals from a rescue ranch in Montana to a sanctuary in New Hampshire. On another trip he comforted a cat, Daisy, who succumbed to cancer en route. “I held her and told her she was loved and I feel so blessed to have been there for her,” he said.
Routine trips have happier endings. “You do get attached to them — but most of these animals have excellent homes so you don’t mind dropping them off. It’s very rewarding when you get there, the owners come out and those little tails start wagging.”
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer.