July 4, 2008

Road scholar 101

It was a clear afternoon on Highway 101 near Healdsburg when the shiny metal giants going 65 MPH all got to the same freeway stretch at the same time. I watched from my backseat as the cars urgently laid rubber. Dog-ma hit the brakes hard. I flew forward for a split-second as my doggie seatbelt engaged the car seatbelt's locking mechanism.

When the metal giants had come to a stop, I was still sitting quietly. I'd been spared. A 30-pound dog like me, traveling unrestrained in a car that decelerates suddenly from 65 mph, is thrown forward violently enough to develop thousands of pounds of g-force in just one foot of movement. Formula One race car drivers experience about 5 g when braking.

Dog restraint is an unpopular topic, but the facts speak: Both dogs and humans are saved by having everybuddy buckled up. Kids and babies riding in a car with "free Fido" are especially at risk of being crushed when Fido goes flying. Passengers and drivers with no dogs are at risk, too. Remember when novelist Stephen King was almost killed in June 1999?

As King walked down a road near his home, a guy driving a van got distracted and crashed into him. King was hospitalized with a broken hip, broken leg, broken ribs, and collapsed lung. The van driver, who lost his license and was given a suspended jail sentence, said that he'd looked away from the road for a few seconds because his dog was getting into a cooler in the van.

How many of this country's 70-some million dogs are buckled-up road scholars?

Roadie seatbelt on winecountrydog
Dog-ma says people argue that they "can't get Fifi to wear her seatbelt," or "Fido wiggles out of it." This means they haven't found a harness as perfect as my Ruff Rider Roadie. If you ever did get in a car accident — even if you're turned upside down — the Roadie will hold you, and won't strangle you, thanks to its cross-over-chest design.

You can't wiggle out of a good seatbelt like the Roadie, and won't want to. You'll like it 'cuz it means you're going out to have fun. Your person will like it that you won't be able to run away from the car. And you won't get into any trouble inside the car or leaning out a car window.

Unfortunately, most canine restraint systems on the current market are inadequate, even potentially hazardous, because they're poorly designed and untested. Bummer, right? As Joanne Howl, DVM, pointed out to dog-ma, "A big concern is about so-called safety solutions that can be worse than no solution at all. When a product is untested, it puts a dog at greater risk because the owner/guardian assumes the product is adequate and comes to depend on it." Dogs, caveat emptor!

Some people say "crating is the way to go." Crating is not THE solution (though we've known dogs who only felt safe traveling in a crate, or portable kennel). Not all crates are made well enough to withstand impact. Plus, people have to know how to secure a crate in their vehicle.

To bark again like I always do when talking about wine country car travel in the summertime: Forget the dog crate! You'll suffocate inside that thing in the car. If you've absolutely gotta be in a portable kennel — it can come in handy at the inn or motel — tell your humans to get a cooling mat for the floor of the crate. And a nice doggie cooling vest and bandana too.

Oh howl, I'll try not to be up in paws about the risks associated with loose dogs in cars. But to corral a phrase, freedom isn't about being free in the car.

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