by Jody Mumcian (May 31 2014)
As a pet owner, have you ever wondered what would happen to your pet if you were involved in an auto accident with them in the vehicle, and you were too injured or incapacitated to call someone or to be able to give instructions to the paramedics, or police? Do you already have a plan? Well, let me tell you, did I have an experience recently with my dog that has made me wonder about these very things.
A couple of weeks ago on the way home from an adoption event that I had attended with my dog Yoda, we had the misfortune of being involved in an auto accident. It was a pretty serious accident, and my car was totaled, but Yoda and I were lucky and we didn’t sustain any serious injuries. He always hunkers down on the floor of the back seat, but if he had been on the actual seat, and thrown forward, he might have been hurt. At the time I didn’t know what my injuries were, but I was in some real pain and the paramedics said I needed to be taken by ambulance to the E.R. to be evaluated. I was conscious, and able to call my husband and let him know what happened so that he could come and pick up Yoda before meeting me at the hospital. But, knowing I would have to leave him behind was a harrowing feeling (hearing the fireman warn the paramedics that I had a pit bull in the back seat didn’t help). I have to give props to the firemen though, and the police officer who handled things at the scene. They were kind, reassuring, and took care of
Yoda until my husband arrived. Like I said, we were lucky. But what if things had been different? What if I had been rendered unconscious, unable to communicate with the paramedics? What if Yoda had been injured? Would anyone help him? Would animal control be called? How would the police or anyone know how well trained and well behaved he is? And the most important question that’s been going through my mind……even with all his training, and his good nature, how would he really react if I were not able to communicate with him, or if he were actually injured? Scary thoughts all.
So, I decided to do some investigating and find out what I could about how to protect my dog (or other pet) in case of an accident when they are riding with me in my automobile. Nowadays our pets travel with us everywhere. We wouldn’t think twice about keeping our infants or children protected in our vehicles, so why wouldn’t we do the same for our beloved pets? Not surprisingly, I found that there really wasn’t a one stop article that would tell me everything that I was searching for, but most of the articles that I read had similar suggestions, and implementing them could very well be the difference whether your pet survives an accident, or receives serious injury, and also how to protect your pet if you are too injured to be able to communicate with emergency personnel, or contact anyone to come to the scene of the accident and take over his/her care.
Car Restraints– The number one thing that kept being mentioned in articles was the importance of having your pet restrained in your vehicle. There are many different types of pet restraints on the market, but lately many of them have come under scrutiny as being unreliable, and in some cases even dangerous in a collision.
Lindsay Wolko is a pet owner who founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety in 2011. She became interested in the safety of pet harnesses after she had an accident in which her dog Maggie was injured whenshe had to slam on the brakes to avoid a collision, causing Maggie to be thrown forward into the back of the front seat. Maggie had been in a harness that had a tether which was too long. Maggie recovered, but she could have been killed. This incident led Ms. Wolko to embark on a years long comprehensive study on pet harness safety, and eventually to found the center. The study was released in 2013, after many different types of harnesses were tested from this country and even some European models. Of the eleven harnesses tested, only one, the Sleepypod Clickit Utility Harness passed the Center’s testing for crash safety. The Sleepypod Clickit models are based on the Federal 3 point seatbelt design that is required in all vehicles.
Note: This is NOT a recommendation, I’m just stating what the results of the Center for Pet Safety’s study were on all the models they tested. If you choose to use a harness, do diligent research on the models that are available before you make a decision. Below is a link to the entire study on all the manufacturers and models that were tested by the Center. Also, on the Center for Pet Safety’s actual web site are videos of some of the actual crash testing on harnesses that were conducted.
Crates– Besides a harness restraint, a solid, sturdy crate is one of the safest ways for your pet to travel, as long as the crate can be safely secured or tethered so that it doesn’t become a projectile in case an accident does happen. There are many different kinds of crates on the market, but the hard sided sturdy plastic or wire crates would be preferable for protective reasons than the soft-sided crates that are quite popular at this time. Some crates are made to have seat belts attached to them, while with others you would have to provide your own tether. The crate is a good choice to protect your animal if you have the space in your vehicle, and also if you have other cargo that could be dislodged and become a potential hazard in a collision. Also, though, keep in mind that even if your dog is properly crated, in an accident, they most likely will be thrown against the crate, which could cause some injury, albeit not as serious as if the animal were unrestrained. It’s important to note, also, that an unrestrained animal in an accident becomes a projectile, which risks serious injury to the animal as well as any human passengers. An unrestrained pet in your car while you are driving can be as distracting and unsafe for the driver as it can for the animal. If your dog is bouncing around excitedly inside your vehicle you are definitely going to be distracted, increasing the likelihood of an accident. In an accident, a frightened and/or injured pet may become aggressive towards anyone who approaches your vehicle, making it difficult for emergency personnel to attend to any injured persons inside the vehicle, which of course to them is a priority. Also, an unrestrained animal could be thrown from the car, or bolt and run away, making a bad situation much worse.
After experiencing this accident I will definitely be buying a secure harness for Yoda, and a crate that I can tether securely so that he is protected when we travel together.
Car Seats-A doggy car seat is similar to a dog harness but they are mostly designed for smaller dogs. But, owners must be careful about the car seat that they select because some are just modified dog beds that don’t provide proper safety. Also, car seats are usually elevated, which could possibly put your dog directly in line with a side air bag or even the front air bag if the car seat were in the front passenger seat. An airbag
deploys with such force that it can easily injure or kill a dog, especially a small one. For this reason car seats, and harnesses for that matter should never be used in the front passenger seat of a vehicle.
If you are going to use a car seat, you should look for one that attaches securely to the seat belts in the rear seats AND has a harness that attaches securely to the dog. Some doggy car seats have clasps that you can attach to your dogs harness, but you must never attach a clasp to a dog’s collar as it could be strangled or cause serious injury to their neck during a crash.
Barriers-Car barriers are used to block off a section of the car. Some are placed behind the front seats to keep a dog in the back seats. Others are placed behind the back seats in SUVs to keep a dog in the cargo area. Barriers come in many different materials—they can be rigid and made of metal or plastic; they may also be soft and made of cloth or mesh material. The main safety benefit of a barrier is that it could minimize you from becoming distracted by your dog. They may also prevent your dog from becoming a projectile in a crash. However, the barrier can easily come apart in the impact of a crash. Even if the barrier stays intact, the dog will still be thrown against it and around that area of the car. There is also the possibility of a barrier dislodging in a collision and causing harm to the driver or any passengers, as well as your animal, especially if it is made of metal. Basically, a barrier is better than nothing, but not as good as a harness or crate.
In Case of an Emergency Have A Plan-Of all the things I’ve listed here, having an emergency plan in place is probably the most important thing you can do. Your pet should wear a collar with identification tags any time they are riding in the car with you. A Pet ID packet is also a good idea to keep in your car at all times, that would contain emergency contact information, (vital if you are unable to communicate after an accident) their vaccination records, and the phone number and address of your veterinarian is also recommended. If you don’t have any emergency information available then the police or fire departments are required to call the Animal Services Department in that area, who would either transport your pet to the shelter and try to contact someone at that point if they have contact info tags on their collar, or take the animal to the closest emergency pet hospital if it were injured. But, this is not always the case. Sometimes, Animal Control personnel will transport even an injured pet to the shelter rather than seek treatment. I’m sure the last thing you would want is to have your pet languishing frightened and in pain in an unfamiliar setting.
An easy way to provide emergency information for your pet would be to attach a Pet ID packet (that can be as simple as info on an index card inside of a Ziploc bag) to an animal’s crate, or another conspicuous place within your vehicle.
To sum up, it took this frightening accident to raise these questions in my mind, and I sincerely hope that no one will have to experience anything like this with their pet. Whatever method you choose to protect your pet in your car is up to you. Just do your best to drive defensively, keep distractions to a minimum (never text and drive!) keep your pet restrained to the best of your ability, and have a plan in case of an emergency.
Accidents do happen, and forewarned is forearmed. I hope this information will at least help you to make the decision to keep your pets safe while traveling with you in your vehicle.