We get asked quite often about the work of pet transporters, so we thought that to give a taste of what it’s like, we talked with BILL RUSSELL, who’s a highly active pet transporter on CitizenShipper.
In fact, Bill’s animal transportation business is very much a partnership with his ‘better half’, Erica Pittman, who as well as often accompanying him on delivery trips, is credited by Bill with getting him into the business in the first place.
Twenty or so years ago, Bill went to college to study to become a nurse – but it was to all turn out very differently for him, after he got a job in an auto repair shop to help him pay his way through his studies.
“I was better at that than I was at being a nurse – although that didn’t please my mom and grandmom, who had both been nurses. But I’d grown up in a salvage yard, where I was surrounded by scrap vehicles, so I’d picked up lots of skills involved in fixing cars, so it kind of just fell into place that I was going to finish up working in transportation,” Bill said.
Erica brought to the partnership a strong love of animals, having grown up around them, although she hadn’t done much traveling before. So you can see that there were the makings of a great business tie-up there already.
“It was actually Erica’s idea that I take a closer look at Citizenshipper, after I just stumbled across the site one day while I was surfing the web,” Bill told us. “At the time, I had my own auto repair business, but I convinced myself that it was worth trying, and we signed up. But it was only after we’d put in lots of unsuccessful bids that we got our first job.”
His first thought was that transporting pets around would be a good way of getting to see lots of different parts of America more cheaply, having been bitten by the travel bug on numerous long-distance vacations with his parents as a child.
It didn’t take long for Bill to really start enjoying the work, as he recalled: “I was on my way back from only my third trip when I realised I was the luckiest guy in the world to be doing this for a living, because even if we got a flat, I could just get out a fix it, get back in the car, and I would still be smiling.”
On their return from that third trip, Bill suggested to Erica that they sell his auto repair business. They did, and so now both say their ‘semi-retirement’ is spent offering to transport cats and dogs wherever they need to go, trading as Erica and Bill Transportation.
“Here in Oklahoma, we’re right in the middle of the country, so that gives us a good base to work from. For example, we place bids and contact people who want a pet or pets carrying from Dallas/Fort Worth to wherever.
“Initially, we would just do one-way trips, but then we started looking for and placing bids on work coming back the other way,” Bill added. “Once we have our first trip booked, we will look for others asking for quotes for a similar journey, and points on our outward or return route, because we can then cut everyone a deal.”
They split the driving between them, and on most trips will plan rest stops according to where they know there are good facilities for dogs to stretch their legs.
Of course, a perk of the job is that, once they’ve dropped off their canine or feline passengers, they can choose what they do next – and that often involves making a detour or two to take in some sights, before returning home to prepare for their next assignment.
Bill says he’s also been known to be a ‘knight in shining armor’ to a few stranded motorists, putting his mechanical skills to good use in getting them back on the road after a breakdown.
“We’re also picking up a lot of repeat business, so there are quite a few routes I know really well, from when we might have picked up someone’s dog to take it to their winter home, and then a few months later in the spring, we’ve done the trip in reverse,” he said.
Bill explains that he’s still learning new things himself, and although the job does take him through lots of familiar territory, there are some places he never tires of seeing: “I love the Redwood State Park, and the Florida Keys, but quite often because of my work commitments it’s just a flying visit, which always leaves me wanting to come back for more,” he told us.
After speaking to us, Bill was getting ready to head south again, for a pick-up of two dogs in Texas, one bound for Arizona and the other heading to California. He proceeded to fill us in on every trip he then had planned for the next week, showing just how carefully he has to plan his schedule to fit in all his assignments.
“On most trips, we include stops of a couple of hours for the dogs to go to the bathroom, and every third stop is a little longer so we can fit in a good, long walk for them,” he said. “It’s not so important with cats, but each one does have a litter tray in its crate and room to walk around. But Erica goes to the bathroom way more than the dogs do!,” he confided.
Erica also keeps logged into Facebook during journeys, often sending clients updates on their progress, which many really appreciate, according to Bill.
Of course, he always carries a stack of emergency supplies, such as a five-gallon water can, extra fuel and a small generator, which can sometimes be helpful to ward off the cold – but for long stretches when he and Erica just have the animals for company, they’re giving their full attention to what’s on the road ahead.
And judging by a recent incident near Houston, that’s probably just as well.
“It was during a hurricane a few months ago, and the middle of the night, Erica was driving and I was in the back watching our passengers, when she actually ran over an alligator. I only knew about it when she stopped and woke me up, but she reckoned it was a 10-footer. Luckily, we were all OK, and we were able to carry on and finish our delivery on schedule,” Bill told us.
You can see that not much gets in the way of Bill and Erica when they’re on a Citizenshipper assignment. In fact, Bill is proud to say that he’s never missed a promised delivery day yet. “I was pulling my hair out a few times, when we were caught up in traffic, especially in the first few weeks of starting the job, but we’ve usually got company around us which helps keep us pretty relaxed.”
Being a Citizenshipper driver is clearly something you’re well cut out for if you love animals – but Bill also admits that it’s really helped him polish up his customer service skills.
“Nearly all of the time, if you’re totally straight with people, and don’t make a promise you can’t deliver, people really appreciate what you do, and they’re really glad the service exists to take a load of stress away from them,” he said.
As for his plans for the future as a Citizenshipper courier, Bill vowed: “I’ll keep doing this as long as I enjoy it. And as long as Erica lets me”.
If you’re interested in exploring life on the road as a driver Sign up as a Pet Transporter Here.