Would you transport your child in your car without a car seat or seat belt? If you answered “no,”¯ then why would you transport your pet in your automobile without proper safety restraints?
Any pet parent who drives their dog to their veterinarian for a health check up knows how distracting it is to be driving with Fido fumbling to get on your lap or licking your ear. Distractions aside, what happens when — God forbid – you get into a collision with another vehicle? Fido just became a projectile potentially causing harm to him and the human occupants.
Lindsey A. Wolko, Founder, Center for Pet Safety, had a similar experience in 2004. She was driving with her English cocker spaniel, Maggie — secured in her harness attached to a seatbelt in the back seat — when she suddenly needed to break and swerve in order to avoid a collision. The accident was avoided but Maggie sustained injuries to her spine and hip. The harness, in essence, hog-tied the dog from the force of suddenly applying the brakes.
Center for Pet Safety is Born
Wolko had long worked in the pet product industry and the experience with Maggie made her want to evaluate the efficacy of pet “safety” products. She researched the products and found there are no regulations mandating safety testing for pet restraints.
The experience with Maggie and her subsequent inquiries into pet safety restraints led Wolko to form the Center for Pet Safety, a non-profit 501(c) 3 advocacy organization aimed at scientifically studying companion animal safety products.
Testing Results Thus Far
In 2011, the Center for Pet Safety tested four harnesses via an independent testing laboratory. The same motor vehicle safety standards were applied as are used in testing child safety car seats. A 55 pound test dog — NO live animals are used in testing — was developed because the average size dog in the U.S. is 55 pounds and up. The results were devastating.
Simulating a 30 mile per hour collision, all four harnesses failed! The first one provided too much slack and the test dog was sent crashing into the back of the front seat. The next two harnesses broke and turned the test dog into a projectile. But the fourth was the most surprising. The harness slid up to the test dog’s neck upon impact. “I don’t think that there’s any doubt that those dogs would have been severely injured, if not fatally injured” said Wolko in a Today Show video.
Laws Addressing Pet Safety in Automobiles
There was a large hullaballoo last year in New Jersey over the proposed Dog Seat Belt Law calling for fines of $250 up to $1,000 and a charge of animal cruelty. Legislators proposed it because they felt it makes the canine safer while driving in a car. Governor Chris Christie said “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life” and vowed to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk for signature.
Other states have laws addressing pet safety in vehicles. In Hawaii, a driver is forbidden to hold a pet on their lap while driving. The distracted driving law can be used for people driving with animals on their laps in Arizona, Maine and Connecticut.
California, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island require dogs to be caged or tethered in a vehicle. New Hampshire requires it for dogs but ironically people are not required by law to use seat belts.
The thing to understand here is currently pet safety restraints are not required by law to be scientifically tested. Doggy seat belts do prevent driver distraction, so manufacturers who make and sell them are not actually lying about their product. It is safer not to experience distraction while driving. But, it gives pet parents a false sense of security about their dog if a collision does occur.
What to Do?
In a phone interview with Wolko, she advises anyone with a pet who drives him or her in their car to carefully research the pet safety restraint before purchasing it. Yes, a few manufacturers spend the time and money on scientific research but the vast majority do not. When asked about laws mandating doggy seat belts, “I question the appropriateness to mandate the use of a product that has no proven track record,”¯ she said.
Wolko said the Center for Pet Safety will continue to do independently funded crash testing of companion animal safety devises. The information learned will be shared with manufacturers and legislators in an attempt to improve pet safety products to consumers. “We want to help manufacturers make better products,” said Wolko.
She also told me that the manufacturers she has been in contact with are open to discussing and learning about test results so they can design a better engineered product for the market. No doubt this testing carried out by the Center for Pet Safety will take a long time to make an impact on future pet safety restraint products and laws. Nothing changes quickly in the legislative realm.
So what should responsible pet parents do until all this testing is completed and actually results in changes to manufacturing of pet safety devices? That’s a question that can only be answered by each individual using some good, old-fashioned common sense.
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