I’m going to catch some flack for this, but...
…don’t bring pets into your #VanLife Adventure unless you’re dedicated to staying home with them all day!
I see tons of people on Van Living forums and on other blogs talking about how magical it is to travel with their best friend. If done right, it can be an amazing experience that both you and your pup will benefit from. However, most of these people are asking very scary questions like:
How do I stop my dog from barking all day while I’m gone?
Is leaving my windows cracked enough to keep my dog cool in the summer?
For those of us living the stealth van life, it’s too hard for a dog to be locked up all day while its owner is working.
Also, your furry B.F.F. is totally going to give you away when the police come knocking on your window at 4 am.
Van Dwelling When You Love Animals
When I was a kid, my mother had this adorable habit of taking in dogs. She was volunteering at the animal shelter and fell in love with every little ball of fuzz that came her way.
Who can blame her, dogs are amazing.
At the time we had a nice big yard and lived in the country so we could easily take them in. There was plenty of room to run around and play as well as hiding places for when it got too hot in the summer.
I loved growing up with so many animals around me, and when it came time for me to leave the nest, I planned on getting dogs ASAP.
However, life sort of kicked me in the ass on that one, and in my 20’s I found myself in shitty apartment after shitty apartment. Each place that was in my budget would either be pet free or not have any sort of yard.
With every new place I moved in to, I would promise myself that one day when I had a house of my own, I would have as many dogs as I could fit in it. I envisioned a Dog Island situation where I would have a patch of farmland and just roll in puppies all day.
And then adulthood hit me like a ton of bricks.
The day we bought the van, I think, was the day I realized I was probably never going to get a dog. Much like the idea of having children when you’re middle class in the U.S.A., dog ownership was just out of my reach.
We reasoned that the most important trick to successful van life was that it had to be done in a non-obtrusive manner. I didn’t want to be a parody of Chris Farley “Living in a Van Down by the River”.
I just wanted to live a little bit better and not throw a bunch of money away on rent.
Also, it’s hard to be stealthy when you’re dog needs to poop in the middle of the night.
Or worse, barks.
The Case Against Having Pets While Stealth Van Living
Vans, even in nice moderate climates, get hot as hell. Right now, I am in Portland Oregon and the weather is an overcast 58 degrees. In the van, however, the temperature is well into the 70’s. And it’s only 11 AM.
By 3:00 today, I imagine it’ll be in the 90’s in that van.
For me, it’s great because I’m one of those nut jobs that’s always cold, but to an animal, days like this quickly become torture.
We can leave when it gets too hot, they can’t.
Another item to consider is pets can get stinky. If you live in a van, chances are you’ve taken some creative liberties on the whole “shower thing”. Trust me, I understand how welcome a baby wipe can be during swamp ass season. So it shouldn’t be surprising that adding an animal to that will make your van smell downright funky.
One of the dogs we had growing up was an amazing little Basenji mix named Cai. He was 45 pounds of love and energy. His coat was gorgeous and I loved snuggling with him, until the middle of the night when his anal glands would leak.
After countless trips to the vet and several changes in diet, our vet determined that there wasn’t anything wrong with him. Anal glands are a dog’s natural detoxification method and we could bring him in to have it expelled, but in between visits, we would have to deal with it.
Not to be gross, but once you’ve smelled anal gland leakage, you can never come back from it. It’s like rotten fish and poop turned into a substance that fuels nightmares.
But the worst part is, it’s really hard to wash off.
You never know which dog is going to have stink butt and which one isn’t, until you bring them home and fall in love. It’s like playing roulette…with dogs. Sometimes you get a stinker, sometimes you luck out.
Nothing says “I live in a van down by the river” like the stench of rotten fish and ass.
My last point on this is it’s hard to keep dogs happy in vans, especially if you work outside of your vehicle. The number one cause of destroyed belongings when it comes to dogs is boredom. If your dog isn’t stimulated often, it’ll turn to your bed and storage containers as a source of a good time.
Some people in houses and apartments put them in crates, but I don’t see how that can be good for the dog to be locked up 24 hours a day.**
Dogs, especially larger breeds, need to have something to do. They’re incredibly smart and need toys and physical activity to be happy. If you are living the stealth van life in a city, please think twice about getting a dog. I understand you might want one, I would LOVE to have a dog, but it’s not humane with our lifestyle choice.
How to Live in a Van With Pets the Right Way
If you absolutely have to have a dog or cat, please be the type of person that works from home. For all the Instagram #VanLife bashing I do, they really do get the dog thing right. Those 20 something digital nomad jet-setters have the best setup for living in a van with their pets.
If you spend your days working from your van and then end the day hiking through waterfalls with your dog, then maybe having a dog would work for you.
The only other group that does it better is the retiree crowd that lives in their RVs year round. If you are either one of those groups, and you have access to electricity and ventilation, then go for it!
Lots of hikes, love, and interaction is the key to doing this correctly.
Need a Dog Fix?
All is not lost if you’re one of those people that needs an animal companion to get through the day. Some ways I get my animal snuggles are:
Offering Dog Walking Services:
Volunteer at Humane Society or a Local Shelter:
Hang Out at a Dog Park:
This goes hand in hand with offering dog walking services. Hang out at a dog park, get fresh air, play with animals and offer walking services to pet owners.
Obviously, don’t be a creep about it though.
Get a Part-Time Job or Volunteer at a Doggy Daycare:
As you can see, I get plenty of dog snuggles (and selfies) these days.
It’s basically the best of both worlds. I get all the love and companionship I can handle without all the gross stuff like anal gland leakage and picking up poop.
If you’re just getting into van life, please reconsider getting a dog unless you plan on being around all the time and giving your dog all of the love and attention it deserves.
** I certainly don’t mean to say that people who crate train their dogs are bad. Crate training, when done correctly, can be an effective way to help dogs overcome anxiety and give them a safe place to relax. It’s the people who lock them in the crate all night and all day because they’re “too energetic” that I take issue with.