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How to make a car trip with your animal safer  by Joseph D. Younger

Why should I worry about driving with my pet?
In a crash, sudden stop, or evasive maneuver, an un­restrained dog or cat essentially becomes a missile in-side the vehicle. The force of impact can kill or injure the animal—or any human in its flight path. The big­ger the animal, the greater the danger. Statistics about critters in car crashes are hard to come by. Police reports don't usually include "pet pro­jectiles" as a cause of injuries or fatalities. But ac-cording to one survey, 70 percent of Massachusetts veterinarians reported treating animals that were in­jured while riding unrestrained in vehicles.  Unrestrained pets also pose a danger to drivers, passengers, occupants of other vehicles, and pedes­trians. The animals' movements can distract drivers, and small pets can get underneath a gas or brake pedal, increasing the chances of a collision.

How can I make my pet safer?
"Small dogs should ride in a well-ventilated, hard-sided pet carrier," says Nancy Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States. "A carrier affords some protection in a crash. It should be placed in the back on the floor, where it's safer than on the front seat or backseat." Larger dogs need a harness attached to the vehi­cle's safety belts. One popular device is the Batzi Belt (pictured attached to pet harness), available at pet-supply shops, online at www.batzi.com, or from the automaker Saab at www.saabcatalog.com. It works in all cars with backseat lap-and-shoulder belts. One end has a triangular metal shackle that attaches to the safety belt in the backseat. The other end hooks to a dog's harness. Don't hook it to your dog's collar; your pet could get whiplash if you crash.

My dog loves to hang its head out the window. Why should I stop it?
Because you know better than your dog. Wind irritates dogs' mucous membranes and blows debris into the eyes, nose, and throat. And it's dangerous to let dogs ride in the open bed of a pickup because they're exposed to wind and weather and run the risk of being thrown out in a sudden stop. Seven states (Texas not included) currently prohibit trans-porting unrestrained animals in open pickup beds.

What else might go wrong?
Plenty. "Unattended animals in a hot car can suffer heatstroke, irreversible brain damage, or even death," Peterson says. Last year, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that the temperature in-side a parked car can get danger­ously high on sunny days, even when the outside temperature stays at a relatively coo] 72 degrees. They documented a rise of about 40 degrees over the course of an hour, with 80 percent of the increase occurring in the first 30 minutes. Leaving the windows cracked open didn't help.

What about cats?
"Some animals just don't like riding in cars," Peterson says. "Cats in particular find it stress­ful." If you take your cat on a trip, put it in a carrier on the floor. Let it get used to short rides first.

Are there alternatives?
You can leave your pet at a board­ing kennel or with a professional pet-sitter. Or you can ask a trusted friend to pet-sit. If you must take your pet on a long driving trip, you can help ensure its safety by taking the simple precautions above. If you take the time and effort to look out for your pet's well-being, you'll both have a better trip.
 

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