James Childress found his true love through his job as a truck driver. Perhaps it was fate, or a chance to trigger a deeper motivation for his job.
No matter the reason, that “true love” appeared in the form of two eyes, four paws and a “bark with no bite.” Rowdy was a black and white Aussie Collie mix that Childress rescued in 2013.
“He changed the way I looked at my job,” Childress said. “I already loved it, but it just makes it so much better. I would never do this job again without (a dog).”
Although Rowdy was — well, rowdy — Childress said he needed a dog that could safeguard his truck in case of an emergency. To that end Childress tripled his love with two Cane Corsos, a large Italian mastiff breed.
The twins, named War and Peace, were bought together so they could play together, Childress said, noting that the two dogs have a combined weight of about 220 pounds.
“I have a lot of dog on my truck,” he said with a laugh.
One dog is gone now; Rowdy died when War and Peace were only six months old.
War and Peace were raised as truck dogs, having joining Childress on his journeys at the age of just eight weeks. Their days are spent serving as canine co-pilots, romping in dog parks at truck stops — going up and down their own truck steps — and sleeping with Childress in his bunk.
“It does get a little crowded sometimes, moving around in the truck,” he said. “We kind of have to do circles around each other. But that’s all they’ve known. They’ve been on the truck since they were eight weeks old, so they know how to do it.”
The security of having two big dogs with him in his truck is only part of Childress’ passion for his canine companions.
“It’s not the same as talking to (a human) on a regular basis,” he said. “We get outside and play fetch, or go on hikes. It’s definitely the companionship. Security is a bonus, but it’s definitely the companionship.”
Childress said he had been lonely for a while before he brought Rowdy, and later War and Peace, on board for his runs. He’s on the road at least 320 days out of the year, occasionally staying on the road for three or four months at a time. He said the travel was wearing on him.
“There’s a connection there, and it’s a bond there that people without an animal don’t have,” he said.
Some companies do not allow dogs in the truck. Childress understands the policy, but says he thinks having a pet along for the ride does more good than harm. Childress said he wasn’t allowed to have a dog in the truck until he went over the road, adding that his company, Holland Enterprises, made an exception in letting him travel with large dogs.
By the time Childress obtained War and Peace, he said, Holland Enterprises was familiar with his work ethic and training, and allowed the Cane Corsos to ride along with him. He trains his pets well to avoid any wear and tear on the truck. So far, he noted, his dogs haven’t left a scratch.
“I think people get (out of) trucking because they don’t like being alone anymore. I think dogs take care of that — or cats, or parakeets or whatever you want to have,” he said with a laugh.
Childress enjoys the independence and freedom that come with being on the road, and enjoys being alone (at least to a point). That’s part of why he became a truck driver.
“Once I got to see the country, that’s what I really liked about (the job),” he said. “I can set my own hours, for the most part; we have appointments to live up to. Between those, I can drive when I want to, and there’s a lot of independence to the job.”
Childress has a built a personal history in trucking. He first started driving local routes while working in the Texas oil fields; then he made the leap to over-the-road trucking, hauling ice cream in the Houston area.
He went back to the oil fields during his son’s high school years, but returned to over-the-road trucking once his son graduated. During his second round of over-the-road trucking, Childress realized loneliness was setting in, and it shocked him.
“I’m not a person that has to have people around me,” he said. “But when you’re coming home every day and getting to see people on a weekly basis, it’s not the same. When you get on the road and start staying out three or four months at a time, like I do now, it’s a culture shock.”
Once he started bringing his dogs along, he said everything changed, so much so that loneliness rarely plagues him anymore.
“Now, I could stay out year-round,” he said. “I just don’t have a need to have people around me. That’s probably a good quality for most truck drivers; not everybody has that. I think that’s what makes the job harder, being able to be on your own for that amount of time. But War and Peace relieve that.”
War and Peace also help Childress come to terms with his own war — a war he left behind in 1992. Childress served in the U.S. Army for two years during Desert Storm, resulting in nightmares that followed him back to the Texas oil fields.
It doesn’t happen often, but Childress still has nightmares from the war. The effects of those nightmares range from talking in his sleep to cold sweats, thrashing around or waking up screaming. No matter what it is, War and Peace respond to the incident by laying close to Childress, licking him awake until his nightmares stop.
War and Peace were not trained to be service dogs. Even so, the dogs have provided him comfort during his nightmares since they were puppies.
“That’s where their names manifested,” Childress said. “Because of the war that I was in, and now they give me peace.”
It’s a peace that also manifests through new adventures and a sense of camaraderie while on the road. When off the road, Childress continues to seek new adventures: When not visiting family, he often books vacations.
One such vacation was a three-week journey in Africa, a vacation he describes as a photography trip. Childress is a self-proclaimed “semi-pro photographer”; he has sold a few photo prints and had a few published.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I don’t make a lot of money off it, and sometimes I pay for new gear with (the money I earn), but I enjoy it.”
He bought his first camera when he entered the Gulf War in 1990.
“I photographed a lot of the landscape,” he said. Unfortunately, most of his photos were confiscated after the war.
“I still had fun doing it,” he said. “I got a few pictures out of it, but it was a lot of fun.”
In trucking, it’s not always convenient to park and take photos; however, Childress said, he has been able to park and shoot the scenery and wildlife in a few scenic spots, including West Yellowstone. In the past, he’s discovered elk and moose roaming around and captured a few photos of the majestic creatures.
As he waits for the perfect moment to hit the camera’s shutter, by his side are his faithful partners, War and Peace.
Hannah Butler is a lover of interesting people, places, photos and the written word. Butler is a former community newspaper reporter and editor for Arkansas Tech University’s student newspaper. Butler is currently finishing up her undergraduate print journalism degree and hopes to pursue higher education. Her work has been featured in at least nine different publications.