Car Restraints

It’s time to buckle-up Bowzer.

It is not yet illegal here in Ontario to leave your pet loose in a moving vehicle, but in the words of one of my colleagues, it’s just plain dumb.

Now before you get all defensive, I too am guilty on occasion of transporting poodles loose in the back seat. It’s not safe for them or me and the hunt for appropriate harness restraints is on. It’s only a matter of time before a law is passed in Ontario to enforce this bit of common sense.

Several U.S. jurisdictions recently made it illegal to drive with a pet in your lap, requiring that they be restrained in some way to stop them from being able to jump on you. The intent is to stop the animals from interfering with control of the vehicle. On his popular internet blog, Dr. Scott Weese calls it LDDDS – Lap Dog Dumb Driver Syndrome. At some point, most veterinarians have had to deal with animals hurt because they were loose in a vehicle. I hate to think how much human injury has also occurred.

Technically speaking in Ontario, we can be charged with careless driving or “crowding the driver’s seat” if pets are allowed too close, so maybe it would just take a police crackdown on lap-sitting to deal with that specific issue. But there is still a real concern that pets loose in the back of a vehicle or even tied with leashes can be seriously injured and pose a threat to human occupants if they are thrown about in a collision. Terrified animals can threaten and delay rescuers following an accident. I’ve also treated several badly injured dogs that jumped out through the windows of moving vehicles – yes, even the smart and well-trained ones will do it given sufficient enticement.

Unfortunately, finding effective pet restraints will be challenging for you and me. There are no standards set and few harnesses have been crash tested. Doubtless this will change with time. The sheer number of pet restraint systems on the market is surprising and an indication of growing demand.

I’ve got a list of things to consider as I shop. Should the dogs be put in crates or harnesses tethered to a floor anchor in the hatch of my SUV? With harnesses they may get tangled, but in crates they would smash into or even through the cage walls in a severe impact.

Harnesses should have wide, padded straps with one-piece construction. Ideally, they should be crash-tested, but I know of only one such product – the Ruff Rider Roadie which won accolades from Tufts vet school in Massachusetts. It does not seem to be available in Canada. Hopefully, standards and testing will improve the selection soon, but whatever’s available now is sure to be better than LDDDS.

One other thing to keep in mind when restraining dogs in cars – they should not be placed in a seat with an active airbag as the force of the bag inflating can cause serious injury to pets.
Here are a few links providing additional information:

Champion Canine Seat Belt System
ABC news clip

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital,
Trenton, Ontario
June, 2012