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July 29, 2019 1:45 PM, EDT

Pets Can Help Fleet Recruitment Efforts and Boost Driver Satisfaction

Melissa Metcalfe with one of the two dogs she travels with. Roadmaster driver Melissa Metcalfe with one of the two dogs who travel with her. (Courtesy Melissa Metcalfe)

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Roadmaster Group once turned down a driver applying to the company who requested to travel with a pet alligator.

But the Phoenix-based specialized carrier — as well as many other fleets — does allow its drivers to bring along a cat or dog as a companion. About 40% of the company’s husband-and-wife team drivers take a furry friend out on the road.

“We went back and forth allowing pets, banning pets, but ultimately back to allowing pets again,” said Michael Fisk, Roadmaster Group’s director of marketing, recruitment and development. “Ultimately, the benefit is stronger recruiting and retention.”

While many fleets welcome drivers’ four-legged friends, they typically limit them to cats and dogs.

“No pygmy goats, no snakes, no parakeets and no monkeys,” said Michael Hinz, senior vice president of sales and operations for Joplin, Mo.-based CFI.

PHOTOS: See more pictures of truckers with their dogs.

Melton Truck Lines allows drivers to have one dog or cat on board, said Angie Buchanan, vice president of safety and human resources for the Tulsa, Okla.-based fleet.

“We found that the main benefit of pets on trucks is the comfort and companionship they bring to the driver and/or rider,” Buchanan said, adding that allowing pets sends a message that Melton wants the job to feel like home away from home.

Melton Truck Lines ranks No. 85 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

Being pet friendly, motor carriers said, bolsters driver recruitment and retention efforts.

“One of the biggest challenges is finding quality drivers. It makes our company more attractive to people who have pets,” said Christian Civello, marketing relations manager for LTI Trucking Services, based in St. Louis.

Roadmaster Group’s Fisk estimates that the fleet’s recruiting efforts would drop by 10% or more if the company didn’t allow dogs and cats. Anecdotal evidence suggests pets reduce anxiety and make for a friendlier driver, he added.

Having a pet on board helps drivers take a bit of home wherever they go, CFI’s Hinz said.

“It can be a lonely job, and a dog or a cat with you can help soothe some of that loneliness,” he said.

Linda Caffee's dog

Linda Caffee shares the road with her husband, dog and cat. (Courtesy Linda Caffee)

Linda Caffee, an owner-operator team driver who works with her husband, travels with a dog and a cat. “They are fun. They’re relaxing,” she said. “If something is stressful on the road, it seems like petting an animal makes you feel better.”

Animals also can make some drivers feel more secure.

“Seeing a dog in the front seat is a deterrent from someone trying to steal a vehicle,” Caffee said, adding that her pets also act as ambassadors. “It is an opening to talk to other people with pets.”

Jon Osburn, an owner-operator and driver of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s tour truck, travels with his dog, Sassi. “She gives me someone to share my adventures with,” he said.

However, challenges also come along with taking pets out on the road, such as the risk of property damage and higher maintenance and cleaning costs. As a result, fleets often require pet deposits or fees.

LTI requires a $450 refundable deposit, with drivers paying $37.50 weekly for 12 weeks, Civello said.

Linda Caffee's cat

Caffee said it is fun and relaxing to travel with her pets. (Courtesy Linda Caffee)

Fisk said Roadmaster has a one-time pet fee of $2,500 payable in weekly installments. “We have real costs associated with pets, but it’d be really short-sighted of us to not accommodate those with pets, so we simply charge a fee that helps us recoup some of those costs,” he said.

Roadmaster estimates that a pet costs about $70 per week in extra engine idling and fuel, Fisk said. “Ultimately, our teams with pets tend to be more stable and stay with us longer, so there’s an [return on investment] in other ways as well,” Fisk said.

Melton has auxiliary power units on many trucks, which address part of the idle issue, but Buchanan said reducing idling is only a part of fuel conservation, and drivers with pets are held to the same standards as their peers. “Many pet owners pursue other good habits to qualify for our performance bonuses that include an MPG factor,” she said.

Caffee has an APU and the cooling comes on as needed, but a well-meaning passerby once called the police because the dog was alone inside the cab. “After that, I left a note on the window saying, ‘I have water, cooling and food.’ It has never happened again,” she said.

Drivers and fleets said that having pets onboard means that air filters must be changed more frequently. Drivers also must plan for their pet when the truck is in the shop for its regularly scheduled maintenance, CFI’s Hinz said, explaining that pets can’t remain in the cab.

Roadmaster Group’s drivers agree to provide short-term care if they need to drop off their pet before going to a customer. Roadmaster transports arms, ammunition and explosives, and is a preferred carrier for the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

“The DOE in particular and several other haz-waste customers do not allow pets on site,” Fisk said.

Melissa Metcalfe, an owner-operator who drives for Roadmaster and travels with two dogs, had one experience when she was assigned to deliver a load to a customer that didn’t allow pets.

“Everybody missed it,” she said, adding that she rented a hotel room to wait with the dog while her husband delivered the load.

Jon Osburn and his dog Sassi

Osburn and Sassi courtesy of Osburn

Osburn has a list of co-workers that Sassi can stay with if she can’t travel with him.

Motor carriers, meanwhile, must clean trucks before they are reassigned. Hinz said CFI goes through trucks with a fine-tooth comb when a driver leaves to ensure no pet hair or dander is left.

As to more of the positive aspects of pets, they can provide health benefits to drivers, some said.

Melton’s Buchanan said pets ensure that drivers are more active, which supports the company’s health and wellness culture.

Caffee said having a dog makes her go for walks. “It is always nice to walk with an animal,” she said, adding that many rest areas and truck stops have walking areas and places for pets to play. At the same time, however, certain pets come with specific challenges. Caffee’s dog is a messy drinker.

“We have had to put a vinyl floor in our truck and seal the edges, and we found a water bowl that doesn’t slosh all over the place,” she said.

Having a new puppy in the truck has been a challenge for Metcalfe, and she has found little diapers that help prevent accidents while out on the road. “They just wrap around him, and he is learning.”