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Puppy love: Couple discovers joys, challenges of life on the road with dogs

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Puppy love: Couple discovers joys, challenges of life on the road with dogs
Trucker Tosh Eyler and his fiancée, LeAnna Thompson, travel the highways of the U.S. in their rig, accompanied by two furbabies, Diesel and Gidget. (Courtesy: LeAnna Thompson)

There’s an awful lot about LeAnna Thompson’s life that followed its own muse. She never imagined herself riding around the country in the cab of a big rig — but that’s what her life has been since she joined her fiancé Tosh Eyler, who’s driven for Wilson Logistics of Springfield, Missouri, on the road three years ago.

And while she’s always loved animals, Thompson never thought she’d be sharing that cab with one, let alone two, canines. (Neither did Eyler, for that matter.) But hey, love leads you to do strange things sometimes.

“The idea to get a dog was mine. Totally 100% mine,” Thompson said with a laugh. “Actually, that’s how I ended up on the truck. Tosh suggested (that I travel with him) and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ Then he said he’d get me a puppy, and cheesecake, and carrot cake, and all the things that I love. So, he bribed me.”

Enter Diesel in May 2021, which the couple adopted from an animal shelter in Nashville, Tennessee, when the pup was just seven weeks old.

“He’s a funny story,” Thompson said. “We were looking for a small dog, a little dog. At seven weeks, they told us he was a chihuahua. Not kidding! He is the biggest ‘chihuahua’ I have ever seen in my life.”

One glance at Diesel, and even those most uninitiated in dog provenance will know the dog isn’t a chihuahua; his appearance shows signs of hound or perhaps border collie in his DNA. Regardless, it was mutual love at first sight both for the couple looking for a companion and the hound looking for a home.

“Diesel has severe separation anxiety, actually, with Tosh,” Thompson said. “He does not like him leaving the truck. Tosh cannot leave, he can’t pump gas, he can’t go to the bathroom. He cannot leave the truck without Diesel freaking out.”

It was during one of these anxiety-induced frenzies about Eyler heading into a truck stop to take a shower, in fact, that Diesel tore open and ate an entire box of detergent pods. After rushing him to the vet, the couple began to think another pup would help prevent such situations.

Enter Gidget, in September 2021. This California girl is the product of a full-blooded bloodhound and blue tick coonhound — and she has the pitch-perfect vocal pipes to prove it. It was love at first sight between the two fluffers, even if it meant Diesel forfeiting any notion of being leader of the pack.

“That connection was instant,” Thompson said. “From the moment we brought Gidget home, Diesel was just so adoring over her.

“But she’s the dominant one,” she continued. “He is not allowed to have any toys. Gidget does not like Diesel to have anything. Nothing. Even if we buy the same exact toys for both of them, she will steal all his toys. But Diesel doesn’t care because he just loves her.”

Dog parents, much like parents of humans, have to have a certain set of survival skills, such as a sense of humor, a massive amount of patience, and excellent problem-solving abilities. In the cab of a truck — Eyler drives a 2021 Volvo VNL860, coast-to-coast – these skills are even more in demand.

In Thompson’s regular posts to social media sites featuring drivers and their pets, followers will immediately spot the baby crates that were converted into makeshift pens to give the hounds their own space. It’s an idea with a “middling” success rate.

“We’ve tried to kind of separate them while we drive, because they do get really rowdy and there’s not enough room in the truck,” Thompson said. “We came up with an area where they can still interact but are separated because they wrestle so hard. They’re also still chewing, and we don’t want wires or important stuff getting chewed.

“We started kenneling them when they were babies when we first got them,” she continued. “But obviously there’s not a whole lot of room in the truck for two kennels for their size. We makeshifted their own space.”

Reading between the lines of Thompson’s posts you learn of other adventures, too, such as when the couple makes a trip to visit Thompson’s parents (her father is over the moon for Diesel) or when she posted about her new slow cooker.

“That was Diesel,” Thompson said. “He ate almost half a crockpot of chili. It was quite the mess.”

Eyler, who’d never owned a dog before, said there have been other adjustments, such as getting used to barking or the other shenanigans the furry family members pull while en route. But, he said, it’s not without its payoffs, either.

“A lot is that companionship,” he said. “You wake up, and Gidget especially is super-sweet, and you wake up with little kisses and cuddles.

“When I leave the truck to go check in or run into the truck stops, I know LeAnna is not in the truck by herself,” he added. “We experienced a few things along the road, just creepy people, and it’s nice knowing that those dogs are there to at least make some noise and deter anybody who might get too close.”

Thompson says Gidget is more responsive to Eyler’s commands than to hers.

“Gidget is a daddy’s girl!” she cooed. “She likes to do everything with her daddy. When I call her down, she doesn’t listen. She’ll scoot over towards Tosh and be like, ‘Can I get away with it?’ She knows how to get down; she knows that command. She just doesn’t mind me. That’s almost like a sarcastic comment to me.”

Owning dogs has gained the couple entry into a fraternity of drivers who travel with their four-legged family members. And while traveling pets is becoming more common, the service industry that caters to truckers has a long way to go to catch up.

“The only place that is really pet-friendly is Love’s. They at least have, for the most part, a dog park area. It’s small but it’s doable for them to run off some energy,” Thompson said. “Love’s is very accommodating. They let us bring the dogs inside. They can even go in the shower with us. That is the only truck stop that is pet-friendly.

“As a result, we do prefer to either go to Love’s or a rest stop, because we can take them out at a rest stop and play with them,” she said. “We’ve found quite a few rest stops that have little hiking trails and stuff like that where we can go on a hike and take them for a good walk.”

Both Thompson and Eyler said that drivers wanting to get a dog as a driving companion should first do a little homework.

“If you are by yourself and you have nobody else riding with you, I suggest you get an older dog, not a puppy,” Thompson said. “I will tell you right now, puppies are a handful. It was a handful with Diesel, but Diesel kind of worked us into a pattern, which is why we’re able to handle Gidget because we learned what to do and what not to do with Diesel.

“Still, if you’re a single driver and don’t have a passenger to help you out, do not get a puppy because it’s a lot of work; it’s a lot of chaos,” she said.

As for traveling with both a dog and a significant other, you should be prepared for good days and bad days, Eyler said.

“The biggest thing is the tight quarters; you’re always around each other,” he said. “You’ve got to have a strong relationship to be able to even handle that, without that break of each other going to work at separate jobs. That would be the biggest thing I would say, how well you handle being with each other 24/7.

“Just keep the peace with what issues do arise, so that it doesn’t turn into bigger deals than need be,” he concluded.

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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