Spartacus is king of his truck. It’s the place he feels safe, far away from the memories of abuse, starvation and neglect. This oasis is where he now snuggles in the sleeper and stares out onto the open road. For a pup that narrowly escaped death, the 2013 Freightliner Cascadia is heaven and owner-operator David Binz is his savior.
“He’s got his squeaky ball and he’s raising cane in the truck,” Binz said, followed by a jovial laugh that would rival the cheerfulness of jolly ol’ Saint Nick.
While Binz has faced his fair share of hardship, it doesn’t show, thanks in part to his love of animals. Spartacus, a roughly 5-year-old Saint Bernard and bird dog mix, is just one — No. 110 to be exact — of the 111 animals he’s transported as a volunteer for rescues, shelters and the occasional private owner for the past seven years. He’s also helped make durable dog beds for shelters and rescues in need.
“It makes me feel good about myself. It keeps my self-esteem up. I’m not a person who gets depressed, but it keeps me from getting to that point in the truck,” Binz, 57, said. “I’m actively involved with this all the time and I don’t have to dwell on all that crap that goes on in life. It’s another dog to look forward to, another adventure.”
Binz lives in Dayton, Oregon, working as No. 3 in owner-operator seniority for Alaska West Express out of their Tacoma, Washington, terminal. Throughout his roughly 20-year career in trucking, he’s hauled it all, from military forklifts to airplane engines. He travels the lower 48, Alaska and Canada. Binz spent nine and a half years in the U.S. Army as a mechanic, later putting those skills toward his own truck repair business.
In the mid ’90s, “I was tired of smelling like grease all the time” and with more technology going into big rigs, he decided instead of fixing trucks, he’d drive them.
Hauling freight was second nature and in 2013, he discovered a deeper calling. While in Florida, perusing Petfinder.com for a relative, his then-wife saw a photo of a dog that melted her heart. He adopted the dog and brought the pup back to Washington. That experience was his lightning bolt moment.
“You’ve got to love animals to start with. You’ve got to have a laid-back attitude, a laid-back personality. Being jovial and happy and fun with the animal and willing to give it treats, it makes it a lot less stressful,” he said of transporting. “It’s like spoiling your grandkids — filling them full of Mountain Dew and sending them back to mom. You get to have all the fun.”
Binz started transporting for Operation Roger, an animal transport network of truckers, and today works through Kindred Hearts Transport Connection, Gettin’ Em Home Transport and a variety of rescues. Transports typically coincide with his work routes.
“I’ve always been a believer of saving the dogs out of rescues and shelters,” which is what the majority of his transporting entails — taking dogs to other rescues that have room, a foster home or even to their forever home, he said.
Growing up near Millers Creek in North Carolina, Binz developed a love for animals.
“I grew up in a very rural country lifestyle in a very poor family in North Carolina. We raised all our own food, pigs, ducks, chickens … I left home when I was 14, went to Idaho to work on a ranch,” he said. “I think the main thing for me is anytime we have an animal in captivity, we’re responsible for its life. It’s just like a child … that animal now depends on you.”
Fur, feathers and pigskin
His 18-wheeler has served as a rolling hotel for a variety of critters. Cats are the easiest to transport, Binz said, saying most will “lay there and purr all day long.” As cute as Guinea pigs are, they “don’t belong in a truck,” he said, because even with constant cage cleaning, they smell and make a mess.
Two of his most unique transports were a Military Macaw and a 45-pound pot belly pig aptly named Kevin Bacon, who was heading to a pig sanctuary in Oregon from Utah.
“The bird would sing, ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’ I tried to teach him ‘On the Road Again,’” to no avail, Binz said. “If I was talking, he’d tell me I’d been on the telephone too long and I needed to hang up.”
Kevin Bacon did not speak, but had a set of lungs that could rival Aretha Franklin.
“I took him out to walk just like a dog on a leash … I was in Utah [and] I stopped behind the hotel and when I picked him up, he squeals like you’re about to kill him, it’s loud and it’s horrible. A lot of people had to come out and watch that,” he laughed.
Binz said his largest transport was a roughly 80-pound Anatolian Shepherd. He hailed from Idaho where he was “discarded like trash,” a common tragedy for these shepherds who often help guard sheep or llamas on local farms. When a dog is no longer performing up to par, they’re abandoned.
“He had a broken elbow in his leg so we had to pick him up out of the truck real careful to go to the bathroom. He had these great big saucer eyes looking up at you; he knew you were helping him,” Binz said, adding he made it safely to a rescue.
Then there are the stories beyond the average transport. Like when he walked about a half mile on the streets of Los Angeles to his truck, carrying a 65-pound pit bull, a distemper survivor that was scheduled to be euthanized that day in a local shelter.
“She could not get her rear end up, she was ready to die. It was pretty frickin’ sad, is what it was. I gave her some treats, got a little spark in her eyes,” Binz said. “She came in with a huge chain wrapped around her neck, a gang had her. I told the shelter I can adopt her. They said, ‘You don’t want that dog, we’re putting her down.’”
This was several years ago and today, she’s spoiled, owned by a woman who lives not far from Binz in Oregon.
“I try to do things where there’s a meaning and purpose behind it,” Binz said, often sharing the success stories on social media. “I like to share feel-good stories; this world is full of hate and discontent. The news is all bad; I like to share good news.”
Man’s best friend
Transporting animals has been his saving grace, a chance to do more than the status quo, to offset the heartbreak of the past three years. In 2014, he was rear-ended by a fellow trucker. Binz blew a tire in a construction zone in Nebraska and after traveling “really slow 25 to 30 mph, they just didn’t see me and hit me going over 75 mph. It broke my seat, threw me back in the sleeper 6 inches [with] my body pushed back [to] the wall.”
His two rescue transports and his pup, Izzy, were uninjured.
“I ended up with bruising in my back, a concussion, whiplash,” he said, adding he made it to his Washington home safely, only to be greeted with divorce papers from his wife. “I thought I was coming home to celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary … I had just a little over $400. I had my dog Izzy, took the car and horse.
“I went and bought a motor home and stayed at a friend’s ranch. Spent my time down by the river, fishing, played with my horse and dog.”
The mother of his only blood-son Austin — he claims four other children as his own, ones he’s mentored through horse-riding programs and FFA throughout the years — introduced him to her best friend, Debbie Trapp. The two have now been dating for the past two years. Izzy, about 13 or 14 years old, retired from trucking last year and stays home with Trapp.
“They’re two peas in a pod, they absolutely love each other,” he said.
In November, Binz fell off his truck, breaking his left wrist and sustaining two complete tears in his rotary cuff, leaving his left arm a mess. After recovering from surgery, he went back to trucking in August, faithful Spartacus by his side.
“The people who had owned him chained him to a tree for three and half years of his life. He was never socialized, the people were beating him,” and despite complaints from neighbors, animal control never looked closer, seeing from a distance he had shelter and water. One animal control officer finally cared enough to look and found Spartacus to be “skin and bones … he was a mess mentally.”
The owners surrendered Spartacus and the shelter wanted to euthanize him because “he was not social. They deemed him unadoptable.”
A rescue friend saved him from the shelter and Binz has fostered him on the truck for what will be three years in January. Though there were attempts at adoptions, no home turned out to be the right fit. Binz officially adopted him last fall.
“He’s a very happy dog today. The only thing is his personal space. It took forever to be able to pet him on his side because his owners kicked him in the side. But in the last three months, now I can touch him all over. He likes his belly rubs,” Binz said. “He now trusts me and we can stand in a group of truck drivers and he’ll just sit there.”
Besides the sparkle in an animal’s eye, Binz said the ultimate reward from transporting is making a difference.
“I get to give a little bit back to society this way. A lot of truck drivers just sit in the truck and aren’t able to interact with society. I’m giving of myself and my time,” he said. “This is something I can do and make a difference in the world. It’s a small bit, but it makes you feel good.” 8