To restrain or not restrain: that is the question dog owners must decide when taking their beloved pets with them for a short drive to the store or on vacation.
“Some people are against it and some are for it,” said Kayla Wines, the shelter manager at the Humane Society of Warren County, who doesn’t restrain her dog when driving.
Lavenda L. Denney, executive director of the SPCA of Winchester, said dogs should be in the back seat and belted with a specially designed canine seat belt.
“Like anything else that is lose in a car, in an accident, they can fly around,” she said.
Dr. Sarah Conner, medical director of Seven Bends Veterinary Hospital in Woodstock, doesn’t restrain her dog, Indy, when driving.
“I think in a nutshell dogs don’t like being restrained,” she said, adding that people like to do what their dogs like to do.
“People want to do what makes their dogs happy. Do as I say, not as I do,” she said.
It’s a controversial dilemma faced by drivers in an estimated 44 million U.S. households who travel with their pet dogs. Opt for safety or keep the dog happy?
There are no local or national statistics on how many dogs are injured while riding unrestrained within a car when an accident occurs.
Frequent dog safety publicity in warm months focuses on not leaving the dog alone in the car on hot days. However, the Humane Society of the United States estimates 100,000 dogs die annually riding in pickup truck beds. And in a national Harris/Volvo survey last year, 97% of pet owners responding said they drive with their pets in the car.
Also in that survey, 69% of the respondents said they view their pet as “family members” and three-fourths take their dogs with them on trips.
Volvo is the only auto manufacturer that offers pet-safety accessories as options in their vehicles and 71% of the survey responders said the auto industry should build more dog safety features in their vehicles.
When driving around town, many dog owners love to let their pets stick their heads out the window, especially at slower speeds.
“Even though it looks adorable, it is not what we consider a safe practice,” said The Humane Society of the United States’ Inga Fricke, director of sheltering initiatives and engagement.
A current Mercedes-Benz promotion to “add a new member to the family” features a dog riding in the back seat with its head sticking out the window, obviously enjoying the breeze, scents and sights.
Connor, who has been in veterinary practice for 16 years, said she has never had to treat a dog for an eye problem caused by sticking their head out a car window.
“I have treated dogs for eye problems from being near lawnmowers and I have treated (unrestrained) dogs after a car accident,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for them to have a broken limb.”
‘If a car is going 70 mph, and the dog gets hit in the eye, that’s going to be serious,” she said.
She endorses the use of canine seat restraints that have been properly tested. (Kurgo, which makes dog restraints, states they have been tested using federal Motor Vehicle Safety standards for child safety seats at a facility accredited by the National Highway Safety Association).
Corey Dennis, of Front Royal, who works at Winchester’s PetSmart store, uses a harness with a handle through which the seat belt loops. It allows Penny, her Corgi, “to move a little but she can’t jump into the front or get on the floor or move from one side to the other.”
Wines said she does not like restraints. “If there was an accident and the driver was unconscious and there was a fire and they couldn’t get to him (the dog), he might get out if he was unbuckled.”
There has never been a problem for them in the past 3 1/2 years dealing with a dog in a crash, according to Sgt. Erin Brogan, who is in charge of Animal Control for the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office.
“Basically, we arrive at the scene and if the dog has gotten away, we try to capture it if we know where it is at,” said Brogan.
Wines said she believes in implanting a rice-sized microchip in a dog so if it is lost and found, the owner’s information is on the microchip. GPS tracking devices attached to a dog collar are also available.
Risk doubles for having an accident whenever a driver looks away from the road for two seconds – the time it takes to look back and stroke your pet, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The math in an accident says an unrestrained 15-pound dog in a 30-mph crash will exert roughly 450 pounds of pressure inside a car. (The weight times speed formula).
Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland recalled he once T-boned a car in an accident when Millholland had the right-of-way and a car drove in front of him. Mulholland’s dog was riding free in the back seat.
“My dog went forward from the back of the car and hit my telephone rack and broke his tooth,” he recalled. “You never know what might happen.”
In Virginia, “There is no legislation that says pets have to be restrained,” said Millholland. “You have to decide what is best for your pet.”
However, if a dog jumped into a driver’s lap and caused an accident, Millholland said the driver could be charged with reckless driving.
Five states have varying laws regarding traveling with unrestrained pets in a vehicle or truck bed. They are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire. Only Rhode Island requires a dog to be restrained or under the control of a passenger in the vehicle.
Overseas in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), an unrestrained pet can result in a fine up to 1,000 English pounds if an unrestrained pet distracts a driver.