Do Your Pets Ride Loose in Your Car? Why This Vet Changed His Ways — and You Should Too

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I’ve done it, and I know better. You’ve done it, and you probably know better too. I’ve written against it and recommended products that will prevent it. But I bet the majority of pet owners still do it. In fact, I know they do.

What am I talking about? Letting dogs ride loose in the car, or even worse, letting a dog sit on your lap in the front seat, head happily out the window. Yes, dogs like — make that love! — doing this. And yes, it’s a lot easier to just let your dog hop in the back, or front, seat for a joyride than it is to secure him properly. But you know, I would never allow my precious granddaughter to ride without her car seat, and it has been a very long time since any of my pets have ridden in the car without being safely secured, either — for a lot of the same reasons.

Let’s change this, together.

The Old Ways Aren't Always Best

I know some of us are old enough to recall a time when seat belts were optional for everyone. Remember how a mother driving the classic station wagon of yesteryear would throw her arm out if she had to brake suddenly? She was protecting the child sitting next to her in the front seat from flying through the windshield. We know Mom was trying to help, but simple physics explains why one outthrust arm is no deterrent to even a very small child in motion.

Cars are much safer now, and drivers are so much more safety-conscious. We know about crumple zones and the value of air bags, and we understand why our little kids need to ride in the back seat, strapped into appropriate boosters or car seats. We won’t start our cars until our older children click their seat belts, and even adult passengers don’t get a pass on buckling up anymore. In many states, the law is click it or ticket, but good parents insist on a buckle-up even when it isn't mandated.

We all know that an accident can happen in a heartbeat, but regret lasts a lifetime.

And yet, even though we wouldn't think of letting our kids or our friends ride around unsecured, we're still letting our pets roam free in our cars — even though it’s so easy to keep them secured. Crates, originally developed for air travel, have long been used for safety in cars, and they’re still one of the best options for your pets. Position your pet's crate as close to the center of the car as possible, and secure the crate to keep it from becoming a pet-loaded projectile during an accident. This gives your pet a cozy and safe place to ride when you hit the road.

Another option is a safety harness; these have become very popular in recent years, to judge from what I’ve seen at Global Pet Expo. I like the kind that works as an extension of the car’s own safety-belt system, using the vehicle’s own design to help protect pets. Look for safety-belt materials when choosing these products, as well as a padded harness designed to protect pets in an accident.

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