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Pets need seat belts too, expert says

By Darlene Dunn, Staff writer
Published On: Jan 20 2012 05:04:56 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 25 2013 08:50:57 AM CST
dog riding in backseat of car

iStock/mharvey

Leslie May was traveling along Interstate 70 with her shelties from Dayton, Ohio, to Indianapolis after a dog agility trial when vehicles in front of her suddenly started to break.

"Cars were skidding out in front of us, so I went into the berm, and so did the car in front of us," May said. "The dogs were in the car, and I didn't want anyone to rear-end me."

May collided with the car in front of her, but she and her dogs, Johann and Gracie, were virtually unscathed. Johann suffered bruised ribs.

"If they were not buckled in, I don't know what would have happened," she said. "The dogs would have been flying."

May, who is in her 40s, believes she is a responsible pet parent who restrains her pets when they are riding in her vehicle. After the accident, she started blogging about various pet issues in Johann's voice at her blog.

According to Bark Buckle Up, a pet safety advocacy organization, pet travel has increased 300 percent since 2005, while the use of pet restraints is about 2 percent, so it is crucial to spread the word about the importance of restraining pets when traveling.

Christina Selter, founder of Bark Buckle Up, said there are three reasons why it is imperative that pet parents restrain pets when traveling.

No. 1 is so that the pet does not distract the driver. No. 2 is so that the pet does not get injured in an accident or hurt the driver or passengers. No. 3 is so that first responders, such as police officers and firefighters, can respond appropriately.

"In an accident, an unrestrained animal is dangerous to the human passengers as well. Even in an accident of only 30 mph, a 15-pound child can cause an impact of more than 300 pounds. A 60-pound dog can cause an impact of 2,700 pounds, slamming into a car seat, a windshield, or another passenger," Selter writes.

She added that when a pet has been stressed, it may run away from the scene of an accident or become aggressive.

Harness or crate

A pet owner can avoid these types of difficulties, however, by using one of the many types of restraints available. They include harnesses and soft and hard crates.

Bark Buckle Up provides reviews and ratings of pet safety products. The ratings include the product's quality, ease of use and availability.

Selter said it is important to consider the pet's demeanor as well. Selter, who has three pets, said that her miniature pinscher, Princess, is a wiggler so the Pet Buckle Harness works best for her. A harness may work best for a dog that does not move around as much, she said.

She added that cats should also be secured, but they typically do not like harnesses. Instead, she said, owners could use a combination bed and safety seat.

Pet-friendly safety

There are not many pet safety laws on the books, but a few years ago California approved a law that prohibits pets from riding in the laps of their owners.

Selter said she was happy to hear about the law passing and hopes that other states will follow suit, because if an airbag went off when a dog was on a lap, it would be devastating.

She also said dogs should not be allowed to hang their heads out the window, because their corneas can be severely damaged.

Selter said that California and New York top the list for pet safety, while the Midwest region is the worst.

"You see in places like California and New York, pets are welcome in more places like restaurants, malls (and) offices, so people are just more used to it," Selter said. "In the Midwest, pets are not traveling as much yet."

Pet safety kit

As part of Bark Buckle Up's effort to get the word out about the importance of pet restraints, it offers free pet safety kids for those who register on its website.

The pet safety kits include a decal to notify emergency personnel that a pet is in a car or home and a card kept by the owner that includes the pet's information and veterinarian information.

Selter encourages pet parents get the kit because if the owner is killed or incapacitated in a wreck, the pet is usually taken to the local pound, where it may not get the necessary care to save its life.

Distributed by Internet Broadcasting. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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