Late last week, Caliper Collie and Paw Maltz departed the Pacific Northwest, two truckers hitting the open road with a load of cargo on the trailer and fuzzy fursuits in the cab. They’re carrying on what’s become a bit of a tradition: Caliper was trained to be a truck driver by a furry; he’s a furry himself; and Paw Maltz, his trainee, is a furry too.
On the interstate, nobody knows you’re a dog.
“There’s actually a pretty decent amount” of furry truckers, Caliper says, estimating that they number around 150 across multiple furry-trucker Telegram groups. He’s only been at it for a little over a year, but he loves the work so far — during this time when most of us are stuck at home, he’s been crossing the country, not just delivering goods but also using his job’s mobility to connect with far-flung furries wherever he goes.
“You don’t get to be home a whole lot,” Caliper told me when I caught up with him on the road. “That can get a little lonely. But wherever I’m driving, I’ll pop on Howlr” — a furry social network — “and I’ll look for furries in the area. If I meet somebody that’s interesting, we’ll chat for a couple weeks, and next time I’m in that area I’ll see if they want to hang out.”
And during happier times, Caliper’s work brought him to conventions around the country. He’d plan his routes around upcoming cons, taking jobs that coincided with furry gatherings throughout the year. Furry truckers also share their live locations with each other through Telegram, noting when their routes overlap so they can say hello at a truck stop or rest area.
For the last few months, quarantine has taken the same toll on furry socializing that it has on everyone else. Regional conventions are canceled, local game nights postponed, and dating has become even more complicated than ever. And although the fandom boasts strong online social networks, everyone’s mourning the loss of real-life connections.
But in their ways, truckers like Caliper are able to provide at least a moment of face-to-face time, or muzzle-to-muzzle. When he runs into other furries on his cross-country drives, he’s careful to arrange meetups in open-air spaces, to maintain safe distances, and to wear masks. (Health experts caution that fursuits are not designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.)
And he’s got company in the cab these days: Paw Maltz, a trainee. He was originally training with another driver, but after that trainer demonstrated some unsafe driving, he decided he needed to bail and asked to be dropped off. Caliper read about Paw Maltz’s ordeal on the furry trucker Telegram group, checked with his company to see if he could step into the role of trainer, and then picked up Paw Maltz at a rest stop.
Caliper was rescued under similar circumstances back when he was a trainee. “I was stuck with a homophobic sexist real piece of work,” he said. “My [second] trainer found out about it and he saved my butt.”
Now the two of them are heading east together, alternating driving times to maximize their time on the road. Alternating shifts means that the company can charge more for expedited service, and it also gives them the flexibility to meet up with other furries en route. So far, they’ve managed to cross paths with various furry colleagues about once a week on their drives.
As for the non-furry drivers, well, “it’s still a predominantly blue collar job,” says Caliper. “People aren’t very tolerant of alternate lifestyles. I’d call anybody who displays trans or gay flags on their trucks very brave because they’re asking to have their trucks messed with.”
So they’ve taken a more subtle approach to identify themselves. The next time you’re out on the interstate, keep your eyes peeled for a truck with a dog collar hanging from the air horn, and bones painted on the mudflaps. “Just little accents that we can get away with,” Caliper says. “And sometimes another furry will see it.”