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
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.