If you don’t restrain your dog while driving, then give this some thought – in a car accident, the force of a dog hitting you, another passenger or another object is many times the force of gravity. So the faster you drive, the greater the impact in a crash and the greater the force with which it hits – imagine the impact of a twenty kilogram dog flying through the car at twenty times its weight. Not only are you placing your dog’s life at risk, you’re also risking other lives. Unrestrained and excitable dogs in cars can also be fatally distracting. And as Belinda Hall discovers, there’s another problem – they can fall out of open windows.
Kylie McCaffrey knows only too well the horror of having an unrestrained dog in the car. While on holidays, her beloved Border Collie, Chai, fell out of the front window and under the back wheel of her car. Badly injured, Chai was rushed to the nearest vet clinic. The diagnosis was a broken pelvis; the options, euthanasia or surgery. Not only did Kylie have to cope with the distress of seeing her dog in pain, but the guilt of knowing she could have prevented it.
Kylie says euthanasia was never an option, but surgery brought an unexpected reaction. ‘Some went as far as to say it [the cost] would ruin us, and we were doing it “just because of a dog”. Others, however, understood completely that she was a part of our family and would be loved and treated as such, and as long as there was a chance she could live a normal, happy life, then we would do it for her.’
As an important member of the family, Kylie has learnt the hard way that dogs also need to buckle up. Thankfully Chai has fully recovered and Kylie hopes by sharing her story, people will realise how easily dogs can be hurt or killed from being left unrestrained in the car.
Unfortunately, the danger of unrestrained dogs in cars is not reflected by current legislation, which requires only dogs travelling in open vehicles, such as utes, to be restrained. While the open vehicle legislation is welcome, it is well overdue. Before the enforcement the RSPCA estimated that more than 5,000 dogs were injured every year when accidentally thrown from open vehicles.
Legislation for restraint inside the car is a cause the RSPCA has been championing for nearly a decade. ‘We had a campaign nine years ago regarding the harnessing of dogs in cars, but nothing changed,’ says RSPCA Victoria’s Ray Lord. ‘It is our recommendation that pet owners harness their dogs when travelling in a car.’
If a recent survey is anything to go by, Australian drivers also believe this law should be amended. According to a survey by Autotrader magazine, 83 per cent of respondents believe it should be illegal to carry dogs in a car without a safe restraint.
Easy-to-use vehicle harnesses utilise existing seatbelts, are fully adjustable and can also be used as walking harnesses. Most dogs adjust to being harnessed, but if not, your dog may be trained to it. A dog trainer or animal behaviourist will be able to help with this. Like any socialisation, it is best to start harnessing your dog at six to eight weeks of age. There are several harnesses currently on the market so do your homework – check the stitching, buckles and clips carefully and make sure you have the correct size harness. Many stores will allow you to take your pet in for fitting, so take advantage of this to get the right harness.
Kylie now ensures that Chai travels in a quality restraint when accompanying her in the car and continues to share her experience to help save lives. ‘It is so important that people know an accident can happen at any time,’ she says. ‘Look at us, I was on holiday and my guard was down and it happened in a split second. Now I know it is better to have them strapped in.’
For further information, read the post titled Do I need to restrain my dog when travelling in my car? at RSPCA Australia’s knonwledgebase.