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Dog Safety in cars

One of the tragedies of owning dogs is they have a short life compared to ours and for those who love dogs they have to go through times of loss repeatedly. On other occasions, we can loose our dogs because of all sorts of reasons. Accidents are one that is very distressing.

I would not normally write about someone’s tragic loss but last week the owner who lost his dog in a terrible accident telephoned me to ask if I would write an article about the incident in the hope, it may prevent the same thing happening to others.

Sam was a beautiful eighteen-month-old Doberman. He was a happy dog and well socialised with dogs and people. In the test for his beginner’s obedience, he attained the highest marks in the class.

The one thing I like seeing are dogs wanting to get into my property as I then know they enjoy coming to training classes. Sam was no exception but one morning another class member said that Sam would be a long later. He had managed to squeeze out of the door and rush over the road to my gate. Fortunately on this occasion there were no vehicles travelling along the road.

The owner quite rightly put him back in the car and drove him around so he would learn that when he comes into the Benitachell area he would not always be going to training classes and not become so excited.

Having qualified in beginners, the owner was going to come to my Intermediate classes. One day he telephoned to say he would be coming to my next class. We all waited anxious to see Sam as one of the owners too owned a younger Doberman; but they never arrived.

The following day the owner telephoned to say sorry he did not attend but Sam, once he knew he was in my area, became over excited in the back of the car. Like so many of us, we care that our dogs are not to hot in the back of our cars and lower a window down a short way. Unfortunately, Sam managed to get his head through the opening and then his whole body so was able to escape from the car. Unfortunately, a passing wagon ran him over and Sam died as a result. This could happen to any of us because we normally do leave a window down for our dogs. Some even put those plastic frames in the window but I have seen a dog break these and escape from a car.

The owner of Sam had spoken to his Vet who said that if a dog can get their head through any opening they would get their body through as well. I wonder how many of us have left windows down for our dogs. I know I have.

This is not just the only thing that can go wrong with our dogs in cars. The number of dogs I see running about the backs of cars or sat on the parcel shelf in the back without any safety restraint at all.

If your car is involved in even a low speed accident a dog on the parcel shelf will continue to travel forward at the same speed. Depending where on the parcel shelf it was at the time of the accident, it could well crash into the drivers or passengers head rest breaking it off and possibly killing the person. If it was in the middle, it would most likely crash through the front windscreen.

I have seen a person with her dog on her lap as the husband drove the car. Again, in an accident the dog would crash straight into the dashboard or deflect off it into the windscreen. With the inertia, the dog’s weight will increase dramatically making it impossible to restrain the dog from flying forward. You do not do this with babies so why do people still do it with a dog.

There are safety harnesses that you can put on your dog that click into the normal seat belt retainers. Letting your dog roam round the cars is not conducive to its safety.

Driving with a dog loose in the back of your car the police or Guardia can stop you and tell you to fit a grate or netting to keep the dog corralled in the back of the car. Actually, the netting and those bars that fit between the roof and the floor of a car will not stop a dog flying forwards resulting from an emergency stop or an accident.

I saw the result of a car that had crashed into a bridge support where the driver and passenger were both killed. Two dogs in the back of the car were in crates bolted to the chassis. The crates had bent under the stress even bending the back seat. When it was safe to let the dogs out of the car the vet verified that they were in fact ok, if a little shaken up. I know people think of these as cages but in my days of working trials, I had crates in the back of my pickup. If anything, it is more comfortable for dogs than thrown about the vehicle as it travels along, particularly round corners.

All Police dog vans in the United Kingdom and in America always have their patrol dogs in crates. These also allowed dogs to remain inside after opening the back doors but before opening the crate. We also had a small opening in the crate that would allow us to put our hands through and clip the lead on before letting the dogs out. This way we can choose when it is safe to let the dogs out and they are already on a lead.

How often do dogs managed to escape when the doors of cars are opened. How often do they run into the road and could have been killed by passing vehicles. How many of us have said to ourselves “That was close” and yet continue to do nothing.

When such things like this happen we always start to think IF ONLY I had done this or that, but it cannot change anything. It has happened.

I can understand the huge chasm that must open up when a dog that was once there has gone. All that affection you have for your dog now has nowhere to go. My advice is to go and get another dog as soon as possible but we must learn from such incidents and look at our safety checks for dogs travelling in our cars. I cannot say that for all the improvements you make that it will stop all accidents, but it may stop many more happening.

If Sam’s death can have any positive meaning, it must be to wake us all up to think about the risk assessment and do something about it because it could well happen to someone else’s dog tomorrow. Don’t let it be yours.

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