Weighing in at just 4 pounds, Diego — a teacup applehead chihuahua — may be small in size, but the pup is a big deal to Marcus Reed, an over-the-road truck driver for 88M Transportation.
“He’s very outgoing. (He) likes riding, likes to play, loves kids and loves his cheeseburgers and McDonald’s,” Reed said. “He gets McDoubles, plain with no bun.”
Reed’s romantic partner, Kelly Webb, gifted Diego to Reed as a birthday present nearly 13 years ago. At the time, the black-tan-and-white pup was five weeks old and weighed 9 ounces. Reed named Diego after a character in “Dora the Explorer,” one of his granddaughter’s favorite shows.
Although Reed was a farmhand back then, he said Diego has always had an interest in the open road.
“If we said we were going to leave, he’d beat us to the vehicle, even as a puppy,” he said. “He’s always liked to ride.”
Reed was driving tractors, hay trucks and other farm equipment when he got Diego; before that, he drove asphalt trucks with a chauffeur’s license in the 1990s. He earned his commercial driver’s license (CDL) and began driving with TransLand 10 years ago. He now drives for 88M Transportation.
“I’d always wanted (drive a truck), so I finally said, ‘To heck with it,’ went out and got my CDL, and started driving,” he said, adding that being a trucker allows him to visit interesting places. “If you go on a trip, how often do you take the backroads? Enjoy life, you know. Take a back road or two. See the countryside.”
At first, Reed wasn’t allowed to have a pet on his truck, but the company enacted a pet policy after Reed said he would pay $500 to take Diego along with him on runs.
“It keeps him from being home alone,” Reed said, adding that chihuahuas are notorious for having separation anxiety.
The owner of 88M Transportation has 14 dogs, so it was not a problem for Diego ride in the 2014 Freightliner Reed now drives, Reed said. Based in Springfield, Missouri, he hauls consumer goods between Texas and Missouri or Texas and Iowa.
The tiny dog does not need much on the road, Reed said — just his food and water bowls and occasional breaks to use the bathroom and stretch his legs. At truck stops, passersby greet Diego with complements like, “Cute little dog!” Reed said, adding that children love to pet Diego.
“(Chihuahuas are) one-person dogs, generally … but with Diego being a trucker dog, he meets a lot of people,” he said. “I think that’s probably what helps his disposition.”
Some establishments do not allow dogs on the property, Reed said — a problem he frequently ran into at steel mills when he was driving in the flatbed division. He said he would decline to load in those cases, and the mills loaded him in spite of Diego’s presence. In other cases, workers have been so happy to see Diego that they were able to pull some strings and get him unloaded hours ahead of schedule, Reed added.
“I’ve got to keep an eye on him. There’s places where you have to have him on a leash,” he said. “Other than that, he stays right next to me. He doesn’t wander off too far.”
That’s not always been the case, however. Diego had the adventure of a lifetime seven years ago, when he was lost for about a week in Kansas City, Missouri.
“They shut the lights out in the parking lot we were in. It just went black, and he took off running,” Reed said. “I was sick. I was worried about my dog, trying to find him. Didn’t sleep. Didn’t eat.”
The folks at TransLand allowed Reed to go to the city every day to search for Diego. Finally, after canvassing the area with photos and calling every animal shelter in town, Reed received a call: Diego had been found in a lunchroom at a rock quarry just three blocks from the parking lot where he was lost.
When Reed’s dispatcher was told Diego had been found, the dispatcher said, “Go get him. Drop your trailer and go.” Soon after, the pup was back in his rightful place — Reed’s arms.
“People say dogs can’t understand you. That’s wrong,” Reed said. “When you say ‘McDonald’s,’ he knows that word. If you say ‘cheeseburger,’ he knows that word. Dogs are smarter than people let on to be. They’re pretty smart dogs — all breeds.”
Reed says he would recommend that any driver get a dog, primarily because the animals provide companionship and help keep drivers calm. In addition, he said, Diego helps him stay active with walks.
“I would highly recommend getting a dog or animal, something that will fit in the truck,” he said. “I’ve seen people with big dogs. I’ve seen people with small dogs, and small dogs seem to take it better.”
While what breed to choose as a companion is ultimately up to the driver, dogs are sure to provide friendship for the long haul.
“You have to pick the dog that’s right for you,” Reed said. “Just love them. Treat them like your kids — because he’s my furry kid.”