This month on driver interviews, we bring you Bertha Ovalle, an early retiree enjoying the snowbird lifestyle. Based in Texas, she travels the northern states in the summer, the southern in winter, reuniting pets with their owners along the way. Find animal-loving drivers like Bertha on CitizenShipper’s dog transportation marketplace.
We caught up with Bertha on the road. She was kind enough to talk to us from behind the wheel. “It’s my own life story”, she laughed. “I don’t have to make anything up, do I?”
Tell us about your decision to go into early retirement. What prompted that?
I’ve been working since I was 20 years old, when I got a degree in finance. My mom retired in her 60s, then passed away only a couple of years later. I didn’t want to follow that example, so I decided to retire at 42. I’ve been traveling the country ever since then, going on vacation year-round, driving north in the summer, south in the winter.
How did you first start shipping pets? You’re doing a lot of work with military families, relocating the pets of deployed soldiers?
That’s right. I’m from San Antonio, and there are a lot of military bases in that area. About 60% of my shipments are military moves. When soldiers return from deployment overseas, they have to stay at the base for a week or two. They want to see their dogs, but can’t always keep them there. So I drive them over, and then I provide boarding. My daughter has built a kennel in her backyard just for that purpose.
As for my other clients, some are retired snowbirds like me, but many are surgeons or other affluent professionals. They usually want their dogs shipped to them in time for vacation, and some of these cost 20 or 30 thousand. So I pick all these up along my regular routes. I drive from San Diego to Virginia every week, which takes about 2-3 days. I charge a little extra when driving puppies because owners don’t want them going out on walks, so there’s always cleanup.
As for CitizenShipper, I heard about you guys on Facebook. But these days, I get most of my customers by word-of-mouth.
The pets that you transport, you say they’re well-behaved even when sharing the vehicle? Sounds like you have a way with them — any tips or tricks you’d care to share?
I usually ship three to four dogs at a time, and ride-sharing has almost never been an issue. I keep them separate in the SUV, and let them take turns on the passenger seat. Rotating the seating makes them behave better. You just have to make sure they know who’s boss. Some dogs, when they walk in and take the front seat, they think they’re alpha. But when you make them switch seats, they realize that actually, you’re the alpha.
You said you’re based in Texas, right? Ever had any issues with dogs overheating down south?
No, never. I take them out for a walk a couple of times per day, about 15 minutes each. We stay at family hotels overnight. I rarely have any trouble with the pets. The owners, though…
I once had this lady who paid me half because I was a couple of hours late, even though there was a snowstorm in her area, all traffic was at a standstill! And this one time, another woman canceled the shipment midway, then called to ask me to deliver her dogs anyway. Pennsylvania to Colorado, for free! I had to babysit the pups for days until that was cleared up.
Is there anything that we can do about that on our side? Any suggestions for the site overall? You’ve been with us for two years now, how have things been working out for you?
Oh, I do all right. On average, I clear somewhere between $8,000 to $12,000 per month. This has become a lifestyle for me. If I saw it as a job, I wouldn’t be doing it!
Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. Thanks for taking the time Bertha, nice talking to you. Take care out there!
You too, thanks!
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To retire in your early 40s, then spend decades traveling the world as if on an unending vacation. Sounds like something we can all aspire to, doesn’t it?
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