SEATBELTS GO TO THE DOGS, TOO
By JENNIFER LeDUC
Is there anything else that says “bliss” like a dog with its head out the window of car?
Well-mannered canine passengers impart a kind of a serenity that many drivers could take a page from. Traffic doesn’t matter. A red light and you’re running late? Who cares? Relax, the smile on your dog reminds you, you’ll get there.
With nearly 700,000 licensed drivers in the state and more distractions than ever before, taking a few extra measures to ensure the safety of Fido, like clicking him into a seatbelt for dogs, can go miles in the prevention of travel-related accidents, like the recent incident on South County Trail.
An East Greenwich resident lost her black female Pekingese dog after it apparently jumped out of the vehicle.
The woman said she didn’t realize the dog wasn’t in the car until she looked in the mirror and saw it in the road, and by then it was too late.
Still distraught weeks later, she said she’d never heard of seatbelts for dogs.
“There’s a lot of reasons to use them that people aren’t aware of,” said Mark Robinson, president of handicappedpets.com, an internet retailer devoted to pet products and advice aimed at mobility-challenged and elderly pets. People don’t wear their seatbelts expecting an accident. “It’s a matter of odds,” said Robinson. Presuming your canine companion enjoys being along for the ride, is well-behaved in the car and doesn’t bounce from window to window or demand lap time while you’re merging on to Route 1, at the very least the dog instantly becomes a projectile should you have to break quickly.
Dogs don’t ride in the car anticipating an accident, explained Dr. Susan Porter, DVM with Ocean State Veterinary Services. While that can prevent people-prone injuries like whiplash, in a crash a dog that’s not strapped in can go through the windshield, be thrown from the vehicle or ricochet off the door like a crash-test dummy. An injured and disoriented dog can be a danger to emergency crews, preventing them from treating injured people. It’s not pleasant to think about, said Robinson, but if it means rescuers saving a human life, the dog could be euthanized.
His company offers a harness and seat belt strap in bright yellow to make it easier for rescuers to see the dog in the vehicle, and keep it restrained until it’s safe for everyone, including the dog.
At Bone Appetit, on Main Street, co-owner Jaye McElroy said she’s noticed an increased number of customers coming in for canine seatbelts this summer. McElroy’s said there seems to be a heightened safety awareness trend in the pet industry, from safety belts to better designed dog life vests to more reflective leashes and collars.
She sells an adjustable, simple webbed nylon strap with a carabineer at one end and latch at the other that costs $26 and about 3 minutes to install.
The carabineer end attaches to the vehicle seatbelt that has been clicked and fastened into place. The latch end of the nylon strap attaches to your dogs harness. A seatbelt attached to a collar can choke the dog or inflict neck injuries and should not be used. While the dog’s seatbelt and harness system affords the animal some mobility and a good view, its design not only prevents injury in an accident, but prevents the dog from getting under foot or interfering with the driver’s mobility that could lead to a crash. There’s the obvious situation one of opening the car door and the dog bolts after squirrel or out the window. Strapping your dog and in is important, basic safety protocol, and Robinson supports legislation requiring it. “Why is it less important [than seatbelt legislation for people]?” he said. “We’re not even necessarily talking about the safety of the dog.”
“I see some people driving with dogs on their laps and I think that’s reckless driving,” said David Holden, assistant director at the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “If you ever get into an accident, what’s going to happen? When you’re holding that dog you can’t use the turn signal, the brakes, part of your mind is distracted. I hate to say it, but it’s like talking on a cell phone.” While there is legislation in Rhode Island requiring dogs riding in the bed of pick-up trucks to be specifically restrained, Holden said the law falls under a miscellaneous motor vehicle codes, not animal welfare. There are no seatbelt laws for dogs riding in cars. “I think its something they don’t really think it’s going to happen to them,” said Holden, echoing sentiments of the pet owners Porter sees when treating a canine accident victim.
A vet at one of the only 24-hour emergency animal hospitals in the state, Porter said she hears all too frequently from dog owners how out of character it was for the dog to bolt out into the road. With anything, people can get complacent. But regardless of how well trained your dog is, said Porter, out for a walk, in the back yard, in the car or in the bed of a truck, for the safety of the dog it should always be appropriately leashed.
The bond between dogs and humans is legendary. Losing a four-legged friend in a senseless accident is tragic, but pet owners can make such a loss more preventable through a vast line products and resources, experience and education. With an unrestrained dog in the back seat, or a dog on your lap, “If you get into accident I don’t think the dog is going survive,” said Holden. “When your home on the couch it’s one thing, but not in a vehicle.”
Â©The Pendulum 2005
Copyright Â© 1995 – 2005 PowerOne Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.