I’ve been focusing lately on what to do about dogs who are anxious in automobiles, and of course it’s an important topic. Car stress makes a ride unpleasant for the driver as well as for the canine passenger.
Not securing your dog properly? That can make a ride far more unpleasant.
As in deadly.
The safety benefits of car restraints for humans are no longer in dispute: 49 of 50 U.S. states have seat belt laws, and the same number of states require additional restraints for children — for example, rear-facing infant seats or child booster seats. Yet people who wouldn’t dream of driving their kids around without buckling them in have a blind spot when it comes to their dogs.
“I don’t want to restrict my dog’s freedom,” these owners protest. The freedom to go through the windshield or run out into traffic? Really?
So it’s not a question of if a dog should be secured. It’s how. And I’ll get to that in another post.
But in the meantime, here are a few car safety basics.
#1: Dogs should always travel inside the vehicle
This might seem like a no-brainer but it bears repeating: it’s very dangerous to let a dog ride in the open bed of a pickup truck. Approximately 100,000 dogs die every year from falling or jumping out of pickups and countless more are injured.
#2. Having a hard cover on the back of your truck doesn’t ensure your dog’s safety if your dog is unsecured inside
Now this isn’t so obvious — as Lizzy Mead, who is a very responsible greyhound owner, learned the hard way. Lizzy was rear ended by the driver of a stolen car who plowed into her at 60 mph. Her truck’s camper shell popped open, and the terrified hounds rushed out into traffic and were badly injured.
I’m happy to report that this story has a happy ending and, in fact, inspired a terrific animal welfare group, the Greyhound Injury Fund. Read all about it here.
But not everyone is going to be that lucky — and it’s not a good idea for dogs to be slammed around inside an enclosure in case of an accident, even if they don’t escape.
#3. Driving with an unrestrained dog in your car is not only dangerous, but potentially expensive — and publicly humiliating
Untethered dogs pose not only safety issues but legal and economic ones. Many states have passed variations of the law in Washington, where it’s a misdemeanor to “willfully transport or confine…any domestic animal… in a manner, posture or confinement that will jeopardize the safety of the animal or the public.” (Some laws specify that this includes having a dog in the back of a pickup truck.) Accordingly, if your unsecured dog causes an accident, your insurance is rendered invalid under many policies. And even if the accident is the other driver’s fault, your vet bills won’t be paid if your dog wasn’t properly restrained.
And then there’s the potential for unwelcome notoriety. You never know who you’ll hit if your dog distracts you to the point of causing an accident. Case in point: While walking along the side of the road in 1999, author Stephen King was struck by a minivan. Driver Bryan Smith claimed he had been distracted by his Rottweiler, Bullet, who was rooting around in the vehicle, trying to raid the food cooler. Smith, who died the following year of a drug overdose ruled accidental, subsequently turned up as a character in King’s Dark Tower series.
#4. Never attach a dog to a seat by his collar
Again, this is something that should be obvious but you can never underestimate the cluelessness of some people (see point #1). So: Car restraint attached to dog’s neck. Car stops short. Dog pitches forward. Get the picture?
#5. Never restrain a dog in the front seat of the car if the airbag isn’t detached
As my friend Rebecca mentioned in the comments to an earlier post, in some cars, including her Miata, the airbag won’t deploy if the car detects insufficient weight in the seat. Theoretically. As she also points out, her own airbag didn’t deploy in the Miata when she was in accident. So all bets are off, even if you have a Miata (which wouldn’t even hold Frankie’s luggage, much less both of ours, but that’s a whole other topic, which I won’t get into).
I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a dog in the front of the car under any circumstances. They always want to drive.
As for the best type of restraint, I welcome any comments.
I’ve also asked some travel expert friends to help me out here. I’m not naming names, because they haven’t agreed yet, but let’s just say they write my two favorite pet travel sites, and one involves small dogs.
How’s that for pressure?