Every morning, before she hits the road, Rebecca Washington takes her four dogs — Polly, Tucker, Junior and Ziggy — out for a 30-minute bathroom break.
“They know in the mornings we’ve got to go, so … that’s not playtime,” Washington said. Tending to dogs is one of the things she does best, aside from driving for Road Legends, located in Lemont, Illinois.
Though caring for four dogs simultaneously in the cab of her 2019 Kenworth T680 may seem unusual, having four dogs with her has not always been the case — in the past, Washington has traveled with even more.
When Washington’s daughter, Jordan, went into early labor with Washington’s grandson, Hunter, Washington did not hesitate to bring her daughter’s dog, Nikki, into her rig for almost two months of dog sitting. Washington just happened to be passing through town when Jordan went into early labor. As Jordan was being transported to the hospital via ambulance, Washington loaded Nikki into her rig, while a friend loaded Jordan’s other children into their car.
Because of the timing of the emergency, Jordan’s original plan of having a friend care for Nikki was not an option. Vehicles filled with adults, dogs and children followed the path of that ambulance to St. Louis from their hometown of Springfield, Missouri — roughly a three-hour drive. At the time, no one realized how long Jordan and baby Hunter would need to stay in the hospital. After Hunter was born, he required multiple surgeries on his back because of spina bifida.
While most moms would be inclined to help their own families as much as possible, they might hesitate to go as far as Washington did in this case. Nikki joined six other dogs and four puppies — creating a grand total of 11 dogs — that were traveling over the road with Washington at the time. This was not the original plan, but Washington said she cannot sit idly when a dog is in need.
A year and a half later, all is going well.
“Oh, that little fat boy is just fine. He’s a happy boy,” Washington said. Nikki is also doing well, partially due to Washington’s sacrificial actions.
Driving and dog ownership have always gone hand in hand for the Springfield, Missouri, resident. The choice to bring 11 dogs over the road for weeks at a time might seem astonishing to some, but this is not surprising to those who are close to Washington.
“My friends call me ‘Elly May’,” said Washington, referring to Elly May Clampett, a character on “The Beverly Hillbillies” television series. Clampett was known for having a way with animals but could be tough as nails with recalcitrant humans when necessary. It is exactly this spirit that Washington embodies, and she is always in the right place at the right time to render aid to an animal in need — even if it means confronting difficult humans in the process.
When Washington began her driving career 20 years ago, she had no intention of having 11 dogs on her rig. They came to her in a piecemeal fashion. She started out with one dog, a Shetland sheepdog named CiCi. CiCi was joined by Little Man, a Chihuahua/dachshund mix. Both dogs would ride with Washington for more than a decade before passing away.
Polly, a rehomed Chihuahua that Washington acquired by responding to a Craigslist ad would be her next addition.
“She’s the boss of the truck,” said Washington. “She thinks she owns [it].”
Unbeknownst to Washington, that was only the beginning of her mission to rescue dogs. Chase, a miniature pinscher, earned his name and a place in the truck after a daunting seven-hour foot pursuit at a truck stop in California. “He was running under trucks and nobody knew whose puppy [he was],” Washington said.
Chase fathered Tucker and Junior with Polly before passing away last year. “Junior is the most laid back, calm dog,” Washington said.
“[Tucker] thinks he’s a big, bad pit bull. The vet said he weigh[s] 5 pounds,” she continued, adding that Tucker was supposed to be her granddaughter’s dog.
“He ended up on the truck with me because he is so attached to his brother and his daddy. When I tried to leave him with my daughter, [he] stood up on his hind legs [and] was literally crying, with tears coming out of his eyes. He didn’t want to stay,” she explained.
Next came Ziggy, a blue heeler.
“This guy was dumping him out at a truck stop and was kicking him and throwing all of [Ziggy’s] stuff out [of his truck],” said Washington, who confronted the man. “He said, “I’m sick of him. I’m going to get rid of him. I’m going to leave him here. I said, “Over my dead body. If you don’t want him, put him in my truck. I’ll take him. It’s either me or the police,” she said. And so, in true Elly Mae fashion, Washington gained another member in her crew.
Dogs are not the only animals Washington travels with in the truck. A gecko she acquired at Christmas will be her latest crew member. She intends to strap his terrarium in where the CB would typically go.
“We had a traveling zoo,” she said. This is not the first reptile Washington has brought with her on the road, and she has hosted a variety of other creatures. In the past, she brought a bearded dragon, as well as ferrets, birds, cats and snakes, along for the ride. We’ve had it all on the truck,” she said.
Nevertheless, it is the dogs that hold a special place in Washington’s heart.
In the evening, after Washington stops for the night, she brings her dogs out of the rig for an extended bathroom break and playtime. If there is a dog park available, she will bring all four dogs out at once.
“I couldn’t drive without my dogs,” she said. “They are the reason why I do what I do,” she said. “[Trucking] gets very lonely sometimes. I really feel like they are the ones that keep me going.”
In the end, it can be hard to tell who truly rescued whom.
Gina Hoffman is a freelance writer and editor located in Northwest Arkansas. She is also pursuing her bachelor’s degree in strategic communication from Arkansas State University. Her love of the stories surrounding trucking began as a child through anecdotes and postcards shared by an aunt who was an OTR driver. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband, four sons, three cats and two dogs.