Merebeth Veit has experienced two strong impulses all her life – wanderlust and a love of animals. Almost by accident, she invented a perfect profession for herself: pet transporter.
There’s one pet that Merebeth Veit can never forget.
He’s a little French bulldog called Harley.
A young couple from San Francisco found him online. He was at an animal rescue centre in St. Louis, Missouri, so they employed Merebeth to transport him by car to their home in California.
“I got so attached to that dog,” says Merebeth, wistfully. “I’ve got a tonne of pictures of him – super sweet.”
Harley was one of her better behaved clients, so he had the honour of graduating from his portable kennel to a makeshift bed on the passenger seat.
Together they travelled on a road trip through Colorado, Utah and northern Nevada.
Merebeth felt mixed emotions when Harley was safely delivered to his new owners.
“I told them that if for whatever reason things didn’t work out, I would drive back and collect Harley to look after him myself.
“After three nights travelling together I was so in love. It’s happened a few times.”
For nearly a decade now, Merebeth, 65, has been a self-employed pet transport specialist, travelling the length and breadth of the United States.
She estimates that she drives 60,000 miles (100,000km) a year, moving about 100 pets.
With her husband she lives in a town called Mountain Rest, in South Carolina, but her life is punctuated by these solo journeys.
“I’ve done hamsters, cats, dogs of all sizes,” she says.
“I haven’t done snakes, but I have done a turtle. I’ve done two guinea pigs. Oh, I took some angora rabbits to Minneapolis a few years ago.”
These are often animals spotted online, whose new owners want them delivered to their home, without subjecting them to the trauma of flying.
Or it may be that the clients are forced to move for work – often it’s a military family, and the pet will be temporarily kept with a friend or family member.
A number of bigger businesses exist to transport pets long distances across the US. They usually depart on set dates, like a bus service, so they can find enough pets to take as a group.
Merebeth’s more informal service comes at a premium, but provides one-on-one attention and can be organised at short-notice.
One of the highlights of the job, says Merebeth, is simply standing back quietly and watching while pets are reunited with their owners – with tears in her eyes.
Merebeth’s pet transport job was born of the financial crisis in the late 2000s.
The downturn hit the real estate firm where she had worked for a decade as an office manager, and left her looking for a new job.
Fate intervened, in the form of a dog.
Driving near her home, she saw a puppy wandering on the road, clearly lost.
She stopped and took it to the nearest house, and learned that the dog was one of six. Sensing that the owner didn’t care about them, she persuaded him to let her have the litter. She took four to a shelter and the other two back to her own home.
Her sister in Denver agreed to take one of them. This was a loving home for sure, but 1,600 miles away. It didn’t take long for Merebeth to decide to drive the dog there herself. It was her first canine road trip assignment.
“It’s a win-win, you see,” says Merebeth. “I love animals and I love to drive.”
Merebeth enjoyed the experience so much she wanted to do more, so she tapped into a popular US website called UShip. It’s an online marketplace where people list items they need delivered, and others bid for the right to carry out the job in an auction. The object to be shipped might be a 10-tonne boat, or a 4kg tabby cat.
Merebeth built up a five-star user-feedback rating, focusing on animal jobs.
Over time she also developed relationships with breeders and rescue centres, who recommended her services.
The car she bought in 2011 to use for pet transporting is now worn, with 334,000 miles on the clock.
Not all pets are model passengers like her beloved Harley.
Merebeth recalls a tricky cat that bit her hand when she tried to open its cage – she bled profusely and had to get bandages from a local pharmacy.
No dog has ever bitten her, she reflects.
There was also a rescue cat called Traveller, who would only stop miaowing when the car was stationary. She phoned the rescue centre to check whether the name had been a joke.
She typically sleeps in the car with the animals, because it’s easier than taking them into hotels, where people may complain.
Driving can become monotonous, especially on well known routes, but podcasts help to pass the time, she says.
“With the pets it’s like I’m not alone,” says Merebeth. “Sometimes if they are nervous I talk to them, or put music on. A lot of the time the animals may be fussy at first, but once they are used to the rhythm of the car, they just sleep.”
The easiest customers are hamsters.
“I once took two hamsters from Springfield, Virginia to Blairsville, Georgia. They were those teddy bear hamsters, really cute. Sometimes with these jobs I think I should pay these people – I didn’t need to do anything for them.”
The only thing that will interrupt her journeys – aside from exercise breaks for the dogs – is the sight of an animal in distress. She has rescued more than 30 cats and dogs, taking them to nearby shelters.
She keeps four rescued pets of her own in South Carolina, including Millie, the lost dog who inspired her work.
Her love of animals comes from her upbringing, she thinks.
She was raised in a suburb of Los Angeles that was far from rural, but as well as cats and dogs, her family kept chickens and a lamb – she raised rabbits, at the age of 10. All her siblings remain huge pet-lovers.
Merebeth’s pet delivery service also satisfies her desire to explore.
It has taken her to every state in the US bar Montana, Washington and Oregon (and Alaska and Hawaii) she says proudly.
If she wants to visit a new place, she will simply find a pet with transport needs there.
There is also a thrill in battling the elements, she says.
“I’ve driven through 55mph winds in Wyoming, heavy flooding and thunderstorms in Alabama and total whiteout conditions in Kansas.”
A few times she’s had to outrun a storm.
After a completed mission, she will treat herself to a hike or two.
This wanderlust is inherited from her father, she says.
He moved their family from Canada to California when she was one year old, because he wanted them to explore a new place together.
“My mom was always more of the homebody,” she says. “I’m glad I got my dad’s genes.”
As soon as she graduated from high school she left home to live on Catalina Island on the Californian coast, away from her parents, where she enjoyed a life of sailing and off-road biking.
It turns out that pet transporting pays quite well at about $30,000 (£23,000) per year before tax.
She doesn’t work in summer, as it would be unpleasantly hot for the animals in the car, even with air conditioning, she says. Instead she does seasonal work, cleaning holiday rental properties near her home.
Every year, as autumn approaches, she says she feels “antsy” – the same old wanderlust returning. It’s a call she must heed alone, though.
“My husband has no interest in being on the road and works pretty much all the time, though he loves animals,” Merebeth says.
“I’m sure he misses me, and I miss him too, sometimes. But when I’m on the road I’m just in my own world.
“I’ve always been independent-spirited and I just feel compelled to help animals.”