I was on my way to work and stopped at a light when I detected movement to my right. I looked at the vehicle next to me and that's when I saw it. A small white dog, sitting on the lap of a woman driving a mid-sized sedan. She was talking to the dog, stroking his ears and just before the light turned green, she kissed his head. At a glance, the image was sweet. She clearly loves her dog. But inside I was seething and mentally trying to find a way to communicate with her before the light changed.
I am the first to admit that I have strong opinions on a lot of issues and that I sometimes use my blog to rant. Well, - Rant Alert.
Traveling in your vehicle with pets, dogs or cats, is the same as traveling in your vehicle with small children. You would not hold a baby in your lap and you would not put a toddler in the bed of your pick-up truck. When you take your pets with you in your vehicle, it is your responsibility to ensure they travel safely from point A to point B. You may be the best driver on the planet. But the drivers around you are not. We have seen time and again how the increased used of phones and electronic devices while driving can lead to disaster in the blink of an eye. You can engage in defensive driving and situational awareness all day long, but you cannot control the driver next to you who is sending a text or who is so caught up in a phone conversation that only 20% of their focus is actually on driving.
There was a time when I really didn't give a lot of thought to how pets travel in vehicles. I am old enough to have grown up at a time when there were no seat belts and no such thing as a car seat for children. I often wonder how we all survived, but we did. I completely changed my mind on the topic of pet travel safety about 15 years ago and as a result of the tragic loss of a co-worker. I will spare you the specific details. I will say that when you are in an accident with your pet in your vehicle and your pet is not restrained, her or she becomes a living projectile. You can do your best to react quickly enough to try to keep your dog or cat from flying forward, backward or to the side, but is it unlikely that you will succeed. If your pet is anywhere near an airbag, he or she will probably be killed. If your pet is unrestrained in a back seat, as was the case with my co-worker's dog, he or she is likely to be thrown toward either a window or windshield, causing catastrophic injuries.
If you really love your dog or cat, as the woman I saw this morning surely does, do not travel with them in your lap, standing up with their head out of a window, in a seat near and airbag or unrestrained in any way. A split second can mean the difference between life and death for both you and your pets and since you surely will be wearing a seat belt, your pet should be safely restrained also.
Because of the size of our dogs, I am partial to the Sleepypod Clickit Sport Harness. It comes in sizes to suit most dogs and is the only harness approved by the Center for Pet Safety. If your dog is smaller or you are traveling with a cat, you can use a travel carrier that is designed for inside of a vehicle. It took Aspy a couple of trips to get used to his harness, but once he figured out that he could stand, move around and put his head out the window, he stepped into it easily. I dare say that he enjoyed wearing it because he knew he was safer and he could lean just a little further out the window and smell the life going on all around us. I know that I always felt safer knowing he was restrained. He might have broken a bone in an accident, but I knew I had done all I can to keep him safe and with no regrets.
I hope the woman I saw this morning made it safely to her destination with her dog unscathed. As long as she continues to carry her dog in her lap, she is risking the life of her dog with every mile traveled. Should something happen to that dog, it will surely change her life forever and that's just incredibly sad to me.
Be safe. Be responsible. Please.
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson