My dogs, Chipper and Cleo, love to ride in the back of my Saturn SUV for long road trips and even for short errands. I created a ‘canine condo’ in the back that includes a floor-to-ceiling metal gate to keep them from accessing the middle seats or worse – trying to grab my steering wheel. It comes with a pet first-aid kit, extra leashes, battery-operated fans, comfortable bedding and more canine amenities.
With them in the back, I am free from doggy distractions and able to focus on driving. Earlier this week, we were the third and final vehicle in line waiting for the light to change from red to green. I looked into my rearview mirror and spotted a white Toyota Tundra 4-by-4 truck barreling our way. Bam! This giant white truck collided into the rear of my SUV, propelling it forward. Fortunately, there was enough of a gap that I did not hit the vehicle in front of me.
My first thought: my dogs. As I opened my door, I fell onto the pavement, picked myself up and hurried to the passenger side to open the door leading into the middle row of seats. “Chipper! Cleo! Are you okay?” I cried out.
As I opened the door, I saw my two dogs shaking violently, cowering and lip licking. I then went to the back hatch that was miraculously able to open despite the more than $3,500 in damage done to the vehicle.
Chipper and Cleo know the “stay” command – which they heeded as I quickly put their leashes on them and assessed them. They were clearly scared, but uninjured. Whew. The gate kept them from propelling forward in my car and possibly, through the windshield.
I was not so lucky. A three-hour trip at urgent care revealed I had whiplash, soft tissue damage to my neck and shoulders, a swollen left shin – not to mention a rattled state of mind.
The driver of the truck and I were able to limp our vehicles a block away into the Oceanside High School parking lot to exchange information. As fate would have it, a police squad car was there. Naturally, the officer was a K-9 officer with his trained German shepherd, Ranger, in his squad car. Call it pet karma.
The driver of the truck readily took full responsibility and the reporting of the accident was handled in a civil manner. Chipper and Cleo were able to walk on leashes with no signs of injury for which I am grateful. Each sport collars with their names and my phone number embroidered on them – as well as microchips. My cell phone identifies three people on my “in case of emergency” list and all three know my pets, my veterinarian’s information and access to my house.
Accidents can happen to anyone at any time. But, I share this as a reminder of the importance of keeping our dogs as safe as possible when they ride with us in our vehicles. It saddens – and frustrates – me when I see little dogs riding on the laps of drivers with their heads and sometimes, front legs dangling out the car window. Or big dogs untethered in the back of truck beds. Or dogs racing back and forth in the middle seats with no harnesses or restraints.
Seriously, folks – show how much you really love your dogs – and cats and other traveling pets – by keeping them safe when you drive. Last year, I happily agreed to post a short safety video for the “Be Smart, Ride Safe” campaign being conducted by Bark Buckle Up and “Pet Safety Lady” Christina Selter.
She shares these facts:
- A 60-pound pet becomes a 2,700 pound projectile, at just 35 miles per hour.
- Pet travel has increased 300 percent since 2005.
- Unrestrained pets delay emergency workers’ access to human occupants.
- Pets escaping post-accident pose many dangers, including catching the loose pet.
- Injured pets may bite first responders and rescue workers.
- Pets may escape through a window or open door and cause a second accident.
- Driver distraction is common when unrestrained pets are rambunctious.
Selter created the “Be Smart, Ride Safe” pledge, allowing pet-owners to commit to being safer with pets for the safety of the owner, the safety of pets and to protect first responders. I encourage you to get size-appropriate harnesses for pets who travel in the middle seats and to never allow your pet to ride in the front passenger seat due to driver distraction and the airbag deployment injuries.
I hope you check out the Bark Buckle Up site for more helpful info, including how to obtain a pet safety kit you can keep in your vehicle’s glove box.
As I type this, I am wearing a neck brace and taking medication to relive the pain in my neck and back muscles. And, I am delivering prayers of gratitude that Chipper and Cleo escaped physical harm and cuddled up next to me. Let’s be safe on the roads – for the sake of ourselves, others and our pets.