Modifying the van for the pets.

It was a random conversation, a chance meeting and a joke that led me to buying this van four days before I was heading out to Arizona. A 2003 Dodge Conversion B1500 van is now part of my ever-growing stash of vehicles, one for each occasion! I know, I know, but I don’t have kids so why not, eh?

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I drove the van home and opened up all the doors, side and back, then let my dogs and cat out of the house. All three ran over, jumped inside and sniffed around. I folded down the backbench seat into a short bed, threw over a thick blanket, grabbed a cold beer, and sat down. Rosie claimed the front driver’s seat. Harold lay on the bed with me, his tail thumping as he sighed, looking out the window. And Stevie, well, Stevie purred and explored under the bed, around the other four seats, and then the shelf above the bed. I could hear his happy loud wanderings and then the little cat found a spot on the bed next to Harold and I. I sipped my beer as the critters all fell asleep that first afternoon. Naptime.

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A week later and I’m back after Phase One of my summer’s adventures. I’d left Stevie at home with the neighbors checking in on him and had taken the two dogs to Overland Expo West, a huge gathering of some ten thousand travelers, those who love extended vehicle dependent explorations of new places. I’d camped in Coconino NF near by and driven in each day, parking in the corner with windows open. The dogs happily walked with me as I checked out vendors, participating as a panelist on some roundtable discussions, and presenting a class on traveling with dogs in the backcountry. Yep, it was a good trip. We even got to see the Grand Canyon on the way home, of course I broke down within 50 miles of the park, but that’s what happened five years ago too so it came as no surprise.

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We’re home now, and I’m modifying the van for all three pets. Living in a van with pets, yes, that’s the goal for summer. There’s really not much online so I thought I’d write about how I’m doing it incase it helps someone else with ideas. We’ll all do it our own way, but this is mine.


I started off by taking out one of the seats behind the front passenger but I did leave the one behind the driver’s seat. Some friends think I should remove it for more storage. I did consider that but here I am, sitting at a table in that very place. A comfortable leather seat, a folding lightweight table, and a window with a ledge for my cooling coffee, yep, this is perfect.

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The week in Coconino Forest was a week without writing; it was disconcerting. I worried that I’d not find a comfortable creative place within the van in the coming months. Outside was so incredibly windy that I wasn’t inspired to sit at the table next to the fire pit and write. Two days ago though, I looked around my property and found a small shelf, about 18” x 24” as well as some chains. I rigged up a hanging table, one that could be set up and taken down easily. It was heavy though, awkward. I liked how it looked but that was all. I still didn’t sit down at the table with the laptop and write. I took photographs instead. Not a good sign.

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Now though, I’m happy.

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Yesterday morning I had a sweet surprise from REI. I’d recently got a credit card from them for emergencies on the travels. After using it just once, as thanks, they send out a $100 gift card for their stores. Oh sweet…I drove to Santa Fe to meet Alexis for a late lunch, stopping by REI on my way. I found a very lightweight-folding table for $40. I got it. I’m using it. This is perfect, the right height, the right depth, and easily stashed out of the way when we’re driving. Yep, it’s a winner already. And here I am writing again.

Another consideration for me has been Stevie, the cat. No, he’s not gone anywhere yet. I’m building up his comfort in the van. I leave the doors open as much as possible. I set his bowl of dry food on the wide dashboard. There is a bowl of water for dogs and cat on the floor near the side door. I’ll want to get one that has a non-spill lip at some point, but for now, a regular water bowl is what we have. We hang out in here. I drink my coffee in here even my home is only a few hundred feet away. I read, nap, and even sleep in here with all three critters of mine.

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I have a small carrier for Stevie, a soft one with a strap. I mostly got it for emergencies; if I had to walk away from the van, say at a mechanics or something. I wanted to know that I could bring him with me as needed. For now though, it’s where I’ve stashed his litter box, in the carrier with the front and top doors open, and hidden behind this jump seat. It’s out of the way but accessible for a cat but not Rosie’s tongue.

There is also a large soft canvas crate, meant for medium sized dogs, but a perfect home for Stevie as needed. Again, when it arrived by FedEx yesterday, I set it up, threw in one of our blankets and put it on the bed in the back of the van. Rosie and Harold sniffed it. Stevie stepped inside and claimed it as his, purring all the while. The plan is that whenever I stop for gas or shopping along the way before arriving at a campground, I’ll pop the boy inside, zip him up, and not worry about him skipping out when the doors are open. Hopefully.

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We’ve been sleeping in the van together, all four of us. Rosie still prefers the driver’s seat. Harold likes to be on the bed near me, and Stevie purrs up and down, changing spots every few hours, but even on the first night he didn’t try to escape, just settled down, and purred the whole nightlong. He’s a happy boy. He’s coming with us. I even took us for a short ride. I didn’t zip him in his tent, I just started the engine. Stevie sat up. I drove off. Stevie climbed onto the shelf. That was that. I see us all camping and hiking together. I’m scared of losing him, my little cat, but I have that fear every day at home too since he comes and goes like the wild child that he is.

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The windows, doors, and building screens for the van are next. I’ll let you know how I do that project. I have some ideas and will pick up materials today.

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