...But if you've got to take them with you, keep pets secure in the car

I wanted to follow up my previous post on the risks of keeping pets in hot cars. The risks associated with pets in vehicles don't end with heatstroke. It's now common sense that car occupants must buckle up. Just as you should always wear your seatbelt to protect yourself in case of a collision, your pet should always be properly restrained while in the vehicle. The surest way to keep them safe is a secure harness or a carrier.

Imagine what you'd do in this scenario: a loose, small pet crawling down in the footwell, wedging itself in between the accelerator (or brake) pedal and floor. Traveling down the highway, you won't have much time to react. Or, you're in a collision - just a minor fender bender. It may carry a low risk of serious injury to you, even though it deploys your air bag. But for a a small pet sitting in your lap? It could be injured or killed by the airbag or could be crushed between your body and the airbag. A large pet leaning across your lap can interfere with your view of the road and can be injured by the air bag in a collision. And not only could your pet be injured in the collision, but it might also increase your risk of collision by distracting you and taking your attention away from where it should be – on the road. Unrestrained pets could be thrown out or through windows or windshields in a collision, and most likely your story won't end happily like the one for this Bellingham cat, Cleo.

As always, Doug Dahl in this Bellingham Herald article has some great thoughts about the wisdom of unrestrained animals in cars. 

Usually a dog's panting face hanging out of the window of the car next to us brings smiles. But wise drivers know how risky this is for the pet. There are three reasons why responsible pet people avoid letting their dog hang out the window. FIrst of all, obviously, the pet should be in a carrier. Secondly, there are airborne hazards that could come barreling towards the dog's muzzle. Eye, ear, face and mouth injury could result from debris hitting your dog at high speeds. Also, an open window and a loose pet increases the risk for the animal to be ejected out of the vehicle during a collision or even a hard stop. The animal could lose its balance and fall out of the open window during an abrupt turn or maneuver, or jump out of the vehicle to threaten another dog or a person.

I also need to mention how deadly it is for pets to be carried in the bed of a pick up truck. There's nothing protecting animals there. Dogs can fall or jump from the truck bed, which would lead to serious injury and likely death, as well as a lifetime of guilt for you for having kept them there. They are completely exposed to airborne hazards in an open truck bed. Don't pretend that tethering your dog to the truck keeps it safer. I heard of a horror story about that once, so don't do this. Please. The tether could tangle, injury, or choke your dog, even if it's the right length to keep them in the truck, and you wouldn't even know it was happening. So what should you do if you don't have a back seat? Again, use  a secured and appropriately sized and ventilated dog kennel. Take care of your pets - they rely on you to make decisions for their well being.

Before you put your pet in the vehicle, ask yourself if you really need to take your pet with you – and if the answer is no, leave your pet safely at home. If you must take your pet with you, make sure (s)he is properly restrained so the trip is as safe as possible for both of you.

For more thoughts on traveling safely with animals in vehicles, click here.

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