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Along for the Ride: When a dog is more than a dog

Along for the Ride: When a dog is more than a dog
Michael Van Ness said his dog, Bandit, helped him to get through one of the most difficult times in his life and served as not only a companion, but also a service animal. (Jennifer Ellis/Contributing Photographer)

Lots of truckers take their pets along on the road, but few have had as powerful a connection as that between Michael Van Ness and his pup, Bandit.

“Oh, he loves to ride,” Van Ness said. “If we go somewhere and we don’t take him, oh he’s mad. He loves to ride.”

People are so passionately connected to their pets that suggesting one owner has a deeper relationship with theirs over another owner is very often considered “fightin’ words.” And it can be hard to understand why a pup that only rode along for a little more than a year could be so essential to the health and happiness of its owner. But few can argue these points when it comes to Van Ness and his beloved dachshund.

“I lost my wife in May of 2019,” he said. “She committed suicide, so he’s been kind of my support pet.

“It’s hard to explain, but it was just so nice to reach over there and pet him and just have a little of that companionship,” he explained. “When you’re out here doing a job by yourself, some days it’s just hard to keep motivated, you know? I mean, thank God we have cell phones now to keep in touch, but I still think it’s the greatest thing to have a pet along as a companion.”

Van Ness grew up an Iowa farm boy, driving tractors before graduating to big rigs. In 35 years on the road, he’s hauled a range of materials over a million miles, from hopper trucks full of grain to reefers, dry vans and tankers full of chemicals. Based in the Midwest, he’s been all over the lower 48, and has even driven routes to Canada, though he doesn’t do that anymore.

About the only thing that’s been as constant and prevalent in his life besides trucking has been dogs.

“I’ve always had a dog myself, and then with my kids when they were growing up,” he said. “When we started getting into the wiener dogs, we got into raising those in the house. They weren’t out in a kennel and so they got plenty of attention.

“(Bandit) was one of the litter of puppies we had,” he shared. “He was supposed to be my son’s dog, (but) then he decided to get a big dog. Well, they were going to trample him! That’s why you stick with one size of dog, you know?”

Van Ness said he favors the dachshund breed because of its “smarts” and its fierce loyalty.

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“They’re total smart. They may be small, but they think they’re a Rottweiler and a pit bull combined,” he said. “That can be kind of a bad thing with them, but they’re very loyal and very protective. If somebody was messing with a family member they would go after them.”

But even Bandit has his more social side. In fact, at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in Iowa earlier this year, the pup placed in the best-dressed pet competition, decked out in a Hawaiian shirt and a colorful flower lei. As for Van Ness, he revels in being known as Bandit’s “doggy daddy,” something that’s common among drivers and pets.

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“A lot of drivers get known for their pets as much as for their trucks out on the road,” he said. “People have a dog, and they get known for that. Like, a buddy of mine had an English bulldog for years and when his last one passed away, he got another one; then he got a French bulldog. So, now he has two and he’s known for that.”

Bandit
(Courtesy: Michael Van Ness)

At 17, Bandit’s days of riding the highways are over. Instead, he’s content to be pampered by Van Ness’ girlfriend back home, patrolling the house and waiting eagerly for dad to come home from the road.

“Oh, yeah, he loves his retirement,” Van Ness said with a chuckle. “He’s got his stroller. He loves to sleep in the stroller now. My girlfriend opens the door for him so he can bark at cars and see the other neighbors walk their dogs by. I love to take care of him, just like he took care of me.”

Dwain Hebda

Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.

Avatar for Dwain Hebda
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.
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