Text: Leilani Basson
Photography: Jannie Herbst
You can’t recall how many times you have stood on a rock, taking in the view, and said: “Max would have loved this,” or “Fluffy would have had a ball here.” Every night you call the doggie sitter or kennel and find yourself wondering if they are really okay. If there is no cell phone reception, you hardly sleep. You visualise how they will go crazy when you get back home or collect them from the kennels. Awww. Poor Fluffy and Max.
Many dog owners feel this way. Their pets are members of the family. For some, their dogs are like children, and losing them would be more devastating than the loss of Uncle Johnny or Aunt Sarah. They become part of your life. Sometimes, they become your life.
My husband and I fall into this category. We are owned by our dogs rather than the dogs being owned by us. Leaving the dogs in someone else’s care just wasn’t an option for us anymore. There certainly are times when it is impossible to take them with us, but whenever possible, we want them to be part of our journeys and adventures.
There are many like us. The demand from people wanting to take their pets on holiday is causing more and more lodge and camp owners to re-consider their rules and regulations to allow furry friends in the rooms and on the premises. The need to find out where these places are spurred the creation of The Pet Friendly Directory in 2002. This annual publication lists pet-friendly establishments in every province. It is now in its sixth edition, and the number of copies sold each year speaks for itself.
Now that pet-crazies like ourselves have a myriad choices of where we can go with our animals, we still need to get there, right? Travelling long distances with any animal can be taxing. Ventilation, keeping cool, having enough space for the pet to lie down and access to water is crucial. And the dog hair and drool in your car? How will you ever get it removed from the carpeted loading bay?
We decided to modify our vehicle to accommodate our (seven!) doggies and make it as comfortable as possible for them. With a few adjustments, it could be turned into an ideal dog wagon for trips, as well as for the annual hunting expedition when only two of the dogs are allowed to join us.
Luckily we own a Land Rover Defender 110 TDI, which is already more practical and dog friendly than, say, a Pajero or Pathfinder. This was one of the many reasons we decided to buy a Defender.
We rang up Nico Landman of Triomf Automotive Art in Martindale with our idea. He did a terrific job in restoring the Projek Aardwolf red Land Cruiser, Die Trok, to its former glory last year for the nature programme on kykNET. An entire episode was dedicated to the metamorphosis of Die Trok from the proverbial caterpillar to a butterfly. We published the story.
Nico, who is fanatical about his own dogs, had a few brilliant ideas for our project. The Landy was booked in for surgery. The whole procedure was estimated to take around two weeks.
Rubberising was the first and most important step. Knowing that you can hose down your car on the inside after a long trip to get rid of the hair, or sand from a diving expedition or a sand dune adventure, is great. The Landy was stripped completely inside. Beholding the carcass of your beloved vehicle in this state is not a good sight.
A steel plate (also rubberised) was fitted behind the back seats. The function of this is to prevent any “accidents” from seeping through from the loading bay to the passenger compartment. It also keeps dog’s hair from ending in all those nooks and crannies.
The Landy was rubberised from front to back; under the seats; over the hump that houses the gearbox. The rubberising was applied up to the window in the loading bay.
A platform was fitted to the loading bay to create a false floor, leaving ample storage space underneath it. The dogs would be sitting a bit higher, though, but they would still have more than enough headroom. This “lift”, if anything, brought them closer to the windows, giving them access to more wind and ventilation.
A cost effective, practical drawer system was designed for the space underneath the platform. The nice thing about this system is that you can take the drawer/container out and carry it into your chalet, tent or picnic area. It is not a fixed drawer system. Dog food, leads and collars, tools, dog bowls, blankets or any other products can be stored there.
A few years ago we had grids, which had to be imported, fitted to the back sliding windows, to prevent the dogs from sticking their heads through. We couldn’t find a matching grid to use as a divider, so Nico made a matching, collapsible one to separate the loading bay from the rest of the vehicle should the back seat be required for passengers. (An unexpected “kiss” might not go down so well with mother-in-law!)
Nico did an immaculate job, and also modified the window grids to clip on and off easily.
A very sophisticated, lockable camera and gun box was built underneath the back seats. The seats rest directly onto the box, concealing it completely. This is ideal on a hunting expedition, when rifles and valuable items can be locked away.
Nico suggested that we add a water tank that could be filled from inside the vehicle. This would ensure that we always had water for the dogs. This also makes filling their water bowls – and rinsing hands, plates and cups – a breeze. When the dogs are hot and panting, a towel can be soaked under the tap and placed underneath the dogs. This cools them down fast.
The last thing Nico thought of was to fix two lights near the ceiling of the loading bay that work off a switch on the dashboard. His reasoning? The dogs also need light, especially if you arrive late at your destination, or have to check that the dogs are okay.
We are still waiting for a special fan to keep the doggie cabin cool. It will be fixed to the divider grid. Sadly, it was not possible to extend the air conditioner to the back.
Other than this, the Landy is now the perfect Doggie Defender. We’ve been on a few short trips already and the dogs love it. Our next long trip will probably be to the Karoo in winter.
One big bonus is that the rubberising has subdued both the engine and road noise, and if you are a Defender owner you can imagine what a difference this makes! It’s quite enjoyable to listen to a CD for a change.
Drawer system: R4500
Gun box: R4500
Water tank: R1550
TOTAL R 15 550
Pet Friendly Directory: 076 637-1198, 076 18-5208; [email protected]