by C. Miriam Yarden, B.Sc., MS
Contributing Editor, LBReport.com
Miriam Yarden's "Pets & Their People / Perspective" appears exclusively on LBReport.com
(July 28, 2008) -- There are a few steps you can take to make driving with your dog safe for you and for him (or her).
An unrestrained dog in the car can become a missile if you have to step on the brake suddenly -- he can crash into you, or through the windshield at high velocity and such impact can kill him, or a human in his flight-path. It will surely injure him, and the bigger the dog, the greater the damage.
Unfortunately police reports do not usually include "pet projectiles" as a cause of fatalities or accidents, but seventy percent of veterinarians report treating animals injured in this manner.
Unrestrained animals also pose a serious danger to drivers, passengers and riders. They can distract the driver, get under the brake- or gas-pedal, and you don't know whether to squash the dog or risk a collision.
Small dogs do well riding in a roomy, hard-sided, well ventilated carrier. It provides some protection but it should be placed on the floor in the back, not on the seat. Never let him ride in your lap! While it is not yet against the law, police frown on this because of the risk of potential accidents.
Larger dogs need their own seat belts. These are specially designed harnesses which are clipped to the existing seat belt in your car in the back seat. They give some freedom of movement but not enough to interfere while you are driving.
NEVER hook your dog to anything by his collar! This can cause whiplash or even break his neck.
Should you stop your dog hanging his head out of the window? Yes, you should because wind, dust and small pebbles can hit him in the face, irritate the mucus membranes in his throat, nose, ears and eyes.
Dogs have been known to lose their sight because a small pebble flew up and caused serious injury.
Dogs riding in the back of a pickup truck present another serious problem. The dog runs the same risks but in addition, he can be thrown from the truck when the brakes are applied, jump out at a traffic stop if he sees an attractive distraction, and besides breaking bones, creates accidents when the car behind cannot stop or tries to avoid the hapless animal.
At least seven states -- including California -- prohibit the transportation of unrestrained dogs in open pickups. He must be tethered with an appropriate harness and leashed on both sides to prevent tragedies. Again, NEVER restrain him by the neck!
What else can go wrong? Plenty! Unattended animals suffer heatstroke in a hot car which results in irreversible brain damage and death. It has been shown that on a 65F day the temperature inside the car rises dangerously within 5-10 minutes, In effect, the car becomes a hothouse and because the dog can not sweat, he breathes in hot air with no relief.
Leaving the windows cracked does not help! It also presents the risk of easy theft of your pet. If a dog is observed in a hot car and the owner not available, when reported, the police have the right to break the window and rescue the animal and issue a citation for cruelty to animals.
Are there alternatives? Of course! Leave him at home when you go shopping or visiting where you can not take him.
BETTER BORED THAN DEAD! If you go on an extended trip, board him in a reputable boarding facility which you should inspect without previous notice, or get a reliable pet-sitter.
If you do take him on vacation, use the described steps to ensure his safety.
Remember to stop every two to three hours to give him a chance to eliminate and stretch his legs.
If you can not take him into a restaurant, bring your food out and stay with him.
Check in advance the hotels you encounter to see if they allow your companion in the room with you. More and more hotels and motels are welcoming companion animals. NEVER leave him alone in the room -- housekeeping staff may not know he is inside and he may bolt.
Make sure that he has all the appropriate tags and IDs on his collar at all time.
Then enjoy the drive and relax because you made sure that both of you are safe and secure.
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