Safety First: Pet Passengers in Cars and Trucks
Among life’s imponderables (like why my nine-year-old son prefers Lox on bagels to pancakes with syrup) is the issue of why some people think it’s OK to drive around with an unsecured dog in the back of a pickup. Ditto that on a motorboat, or with a car window wide open and two paws perched precariously on the window frame.
In vet school I knew someone who witnessed the worst kind of pet accident—two Newfoundlands who “inexplicably” jumped to their deaths from the back of a highway-bound pickup and caused a multi-car pileup. The dogs’ bodies had to be recovered in pieces from the undersides of the unmovably mangled cars they left in their wake.
The owner/driver, shaken and tearful, delivered the words most commonly uttered after a predictable tragedy like this: “They never did that before.”
I collected the same statement from a driver whose German shepherd jumped out the passenger window of his restored, sixties-model Cadillac. It looked way cooler before it swerved into the median and hit a spindly, newly planted tree on US1. He and I hit our hazards and eventually captured his traffic-bound dog. Despite hitting the ground at 45 mph and rolling for what seemed like an eternity, this dog was somehow unblemished.
I’ve seen numerous cases of dogs who present in varying stages of distress after managing to survive leaps or falls like these. These are the lucky ones: broken limbs, degloving injuries (as awful as it sounds), road rash beyond compare (unless you work in an emergency room attending to motorcycle accident victims), brachial plexus avulsions (leading to long-term, neurological lameness), and the ubiquitous head injury cases.
I forever marvel at these men (in my experience they’ve always been Y chromosome wonders). What were they thinking? Wait! I have the answer!: “He never did that before.”
How hard is it, exactly, to secure your dog with two leashes in a pickup truck? (and that’s not exactly ideal either). How about the ubiquitous pet seat belt threaded through a harness? They’re everywhere. Or the crate (which has saved many a pet involved in a collision). And the obvious: an oft-eschewed life vest for a motorboat ride. (It seems the little ones are the only sporters of such safety gear.)
Still, I’m no one to talk on these latter points—my Sophie Sue is always sleeping, unsecured, on the shotgun seat of my car and, worst of all, my new pup has a thing for the bobble-headed dog’s spot on the rear window ledge (occasioning much unsafe rubbernecking from my fellow drivers). Luckily, I have a short, five minute commute.
But don’t worry, I’ll be ending my hypocrisy this summer with the purchase of a “new” vehicle: a super-safe, used, small SUV with a rear cargo area ideal for a comfy crate (do you approve, Gina?). I feel guilty buying an SUV-ish thing, but the Lox-lover, the dogs, the goat (with her bales of hay), and my patients (including the remains of euthanized house-call cases) have to ride somewhere. And this vet’s tired of her dilapidated, 14 year-old ride, anyway. (I need to move up a few years!)
If pets are going to be passengers, even for just the occasional Sunday drive or trip to the vet, you, too, should think on how best to secure them. And, whatever you do, at least roll up your windows to a safe level or buckle them in somehow. Do as I say — not as I [currently] do.
Image: VannPhotography / Shutterstock