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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Safety

This common activity can injure - even kill - your pet

Every day, millions of pet parents participate in a routine activity that is needlessly putting their dogs at risk of injury or even death, animal welfare officials warn.

This function is so customary that some pet parents and dogs do it several times a day. They do it when they go the park, visit the veterinarian and the run errands.

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The activity that 83 percent of pet parents do that is putting their dog in harm's way is driving without their properly restraining their companion.

An estimated 30,000 car accidents occur each year because people travel with unrestrained dogs, according to Bark Buckle Up, an organization that promotes the use of safety belts for pets.

"Safety belts can only work if you use them ... Like people, pets need to buckle up when in the car - but that takes the owner's help," Christina Selter, the organization's founder states in a media release.

An unrestrained dog involved in an accident is at great risk of injury or death, and it can also be a threat to others, Ms. Selter explained. "In a 35 mile-per-hour accident, a 60-pound dog becomes a 2,700-pound projectile."

An unrestrained dog involved in an accident is likely to get hurt, be frightened and attempt to flee, which can result in danger to the pet and others such as first responders and rescue workers, Ms. Selter said. "Most accidents injure the pet. Unrestrained, they can bite the first responder on a scene or cause a second accident when fleeing an accident."

A rambunctious, unrestrained pet also can to distract the driver, making an accident more likely, safety officials say, yet most people drive with their dogs unrestrained. According to a survey by AAA and Kurgo, a maker of pet travel products, only 17 percent use any form of pet restraint system when driving with their dog.

Other findings of the AAA/Kurgo survey include:
  • 80 percent of dog owners say they take their pet along on leisure trips, to do errands and to places like the pet store, dog parks and to work.
  • 31 percent admit to being distracted by their dog while driving.
  • 59 percent say they have been involved in distracting activities with their dog while driving.
  • 55 percent have patted their dog while driving.
  • 21 percent have allowed their dog to sit in their lap.
  • 7 percent give food and water to their dog while driving.
  • 5 percent play with their dog while driving.
These behaviors can distract the driver and increase the risk of a crash, AAA says. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that looking away from the road for only two seconds doubles your risk of being in a crash.

Of the 17 percent of drivers who restraint their pets, the survey found: 52 percent use a pet harness/safety belt; 28 percent use a hard-sided pet travel crate; 18 percent use a pet vehicle seat; 13 percent use a soft-sided pet travel crate; 9 percent use a vehicle pet barrier.

The survey found that most drivers - 54 percent - put their dogs in the back seat during trips. Other locations in the vehicle include: front seat, 26 percent; rear cargo area, 17 percent; pickup truck bed, 2 percent.

AAA warns that the airbag system in a vehicle can be deadly to a dog during a crash if it is sitting in the front seat, even if restrained.

Dogs USA magazine advises pet parents to restrain their dogs in the back seat when driving. Pet parents have several options to help reduce the risk of injuries to their dogs when traveling, including the use of travel crates and pet harnesses. Crates should be large enough for a dog to stand up and change position, and secured in the vehicle’s back seat.
No one plans on having another car run a red light or having a tire blow out, but these and other accidents happen every day, and they can and do injure and kill unrestrained dogs,” Dogs USA group editor Ernie Slone states in a media release. “We would never take such a risk with a child, so why would we want to do so with a beloved pet?’’


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