German shepherd loves to ride motorcycle with Bell Township man
Meet Nakita, the canine cruiser.
Turning heads and soliciting honks and waves from the public, Nakita, a 3-year-old German shepherd, rides shotgun around the Alle-Kiski Valley on the backseat of a 1998 red Honda Gold Wing motorcycle behind her master, Paul Caldwell of Bell Township.
Caldwell estimates they have logged close to 2,000 miles on the road together over the past three years.
Nakita began riding when she was 10 weeks old.
Nakita learned her riding skills from watching her older sibling, Sage, the Caldwells’ other beloved German shepherd, now deceased.
“Between both dogs, I have been riding with them for seven years,” Caldwell said.
During training, Caldwell, 51, held Nakita in front, while Sage rode sitting upright on the backseat.
“I thought Nakita would pick it up quicker with Sage riding on the back,” Caldwell said. “Nakita initially started riding on the front between my legs.”
The sight of Nakita cruising down the highway results in motorists doing double-takes and elicits “pup paparazzi” responses from onlookers.
“People always ask, “Is this allowed?”
“I have had many police officers follow me and — actually also film me — and nothing was said to me otherwise,” Caldwell said.
He said that, overall, people approve of Nakita’s unusual mode of transportation.
“Every now and then there’s someone that is negative, but about 90 percent of reactions are positive.”
Nakita rides unrestrained, sans doggles (yes, those are googles for dogs), on a built-in, cushioned seatback that is perfect for giving her added stability, Caldwell said.
Nakita sits upright with her paws resting on Caldwell’s shoulders, sometimes resting one paw down, but always having at least one paw on Caldwell.
“I feel in the case of an accident Nakita would be hurt more if she was strapped to the bike as compared to jumping or flying off,” Caldwell said.
When asked which of his “girls” gets the most motorcycle time — his wife, Melissa, or Nakita — Caldwell said it’s 50/50.
“Nakita does get jealous when my wife and I go riding. Nakita is always waiting when we return, and then it’s Nakita’s turn.”
Caldwell enjoys playing country music during rides while Nakita scans for wildlife.
“I always point out wildlife such as horses, deer and geese, which I call ‘duck ducks.’ Nakita always remembers where we see them and looks for them when we are in that area.”
When those low Pennsylvania winter temps appear, the rides cease.
“We will go out a little if the temps are in the 50s, but when it’s too cold we don’t ride,” Caldwell said.
The public always asks Caldwell how Nakita stays on the bike.
“She just does,” he said. “She knows how to balance herself.”
Caldwell started out driving slowly and close to home when Nakita was young and gaining riding experience, then slowly venturing a little farther each time until he felt confident she wouldn’t fall off.
“She has never jumped off of the back of the bike, ever,” Caldwell said. “She doesn’t have reactions to loud sounds, other cars and trucks. She does like to lean over to fellow bikers as if to say hello — she notices the motorcycles. It’s very social.”
Caldwell takes Nakita on weekly rides, weather permitting, mostly around Monroeville, Murrysville, Delmont, Saltsburg, Apollo, Plum, Greensburg and the Allegheny Township/Leechburg area, where the Caldwells owns a business.
Nakita’s longest road trip? To Johnstown.
During pit stops, Nakita sits patiently in her seat, waiting for Caldwell outside.
“She thinks it’s her bike,” he said.
Caldwell’s wife, Melissa, said the time spent with Nakita is precious to them.
“The time we have with our pets seems short, and I like to spend as much time as I can with her.”
“I love having her with me, and I am making her happy,” Caldwell said. “I like the fact that she loves to ride.”
Nakita is fond of local bank drive- thru bike visits.
“They always give her a treat,” Caldwell said.
“I think she just really enjoys the air in her face and different scenery,” Caldwell said. “And when we’re done, she gets a doggie biscuit.”
Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer.