Wag Long and Prosper

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Safety First: Pet Restraints for Travel

When I drove Brody and Kekoa from San Diego to Seattle two summers ago for a family vacation, I made the investment in two pet “safety belts.” Like most people, I wanted to do everything I could to keep both the dogs and my family safe on the long journey, and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

With the kids taking up the back seat and the luggage on top of the car, the dogs were in the cargo area of our SUV. The belts were harnesses with a carabiner attached to a lead on the harness, that hooked onto the cargo hooks. I remember thinking to myself that this seemed a little flimsy compared to the way the kids were hermetically sealed in the backseat in tested and approved car seats, but it was the best I could find, and something was better than nothing. The truth is, these pet safety harnesses are not held to any sort of testing or safety standard, a frightening proposition when you consider that certain states are making pet restraint mandatory.

The Importance of Safe and Effective Pet Restraints 

Don’t get me wrong: unrestrained pets are a risk for a variety of reasons in an accident. First, and most obvious, the pet can be injured during the accident. Secondly, the pet can injure others, acting as a projectile when the car comes to a sudden halt. Third, and sadly quite commonly, a pet survives the accident unscathed but gets out of the car, and is lost or struck after the fact. A safe and effective pet restraint is clearly badly needed, but do the restraints on the market fit the bill?

According to the non-profit advocacy group Center for Pet Safety,  there are zero manufacturing standards or test requirements for pet safety restraints. In a 2011 study by CPS using a variety of pet restraints in a NHTSA test facility, 100% of the restraints failed in a 30 mph crash. One hundred percent. The accompanying video (using canine crash-test dummies) is both alarming and sobering.

The Hope for the Future

Fortunately, both manufacturers and consumers paid attention to these frightening results and are working on safer and effective restraints. It’s not an easy prospect; an 80 pound dog cannot be strapped down to a seat the same way a human can by virtue of their shape and the way they sit down, meaning the entire concept of restraint needs to be re-evaluated from the ground up.

I recently met with the owners of Sleepypod, who are about to release a 3 point dog harness that can be used both in the backseat and the cargo area of automobiles. The harness recently passed the 30 mph test in a federally accredited crash test facility. Here’s to hoping this is the first of a new generation of safe and effective restraints.

My interest in this is more than academic; since that first long trip and my sense of disquiet, I stopped taking my dogs on our yearly drive to Washington, preferring to leave them with the grandparents than risk the ride. I’m hoping I will soon be able to take Brody back on the road, safe and sound.

Image: Gorilla Images via Shutterstock

Dr. V.

Dr. V.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang (Dr. V.), one of the most popular veterinarians on the web, offers Wag Long & Prosper readers a unique (and often times amusing) outlook on raising healthy and happy pets. A graduate of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and an awarding winning vet, Dr. V goes far beyond the confines of a clinic and explores the latest news, hot button issues, and the emotional side of being a pet parent with humor and understanding.

Read Dr. V.'s Full Bio