Dog in safety harness in car

You take your pets places, right? In fact, if you live anywhere but the deepest inner city (or somewhere with really progressive public transportation), your pets probably ride in a vehicle from time to time. After all, they’re your family. Why wouldn’t you go places with them? So it stands to reason you’d take the same precautions for them you would for yourself, right?

If you’re like me, you’d never think of going without the simplest of modern vehicular safety protections (i.e., a seat belt). You’d be cautious about how your tiniest humans are restrained. You’d be sure they were seated so the airbags wouldn’t hurt them. And you’d absolutely never let your human children ride in your lap.

Regrettably, little of the same can be said for the average passenger pet. Few are treated to the same safety concessions humans (mostly) follow and are required by law to adhere to in many states.

We Should All Know Better

No restraints. No restricted movement. Freedom to climb on laps, loll their tongues out of open windows and perch their feet precariously on steering wheels, dashboards, and windowsills alike. Those who let their pets engage in this behavior have little regard for the possible dangers involved, including airbag deployment hazards. I mean, have you ever wondered what happens when a pet comes between you and the airbag?

Perhaps you’ve seen it all, too. If so, it probably makes you angry. How can they just let that dog run amok in their car? Do they really think it’s safe to leave him loose in the back of their truck?

And yet, if you’re like me, you’re not wholly without blame. I’ve been guilty of more than a few pet-related vehicular infractions. Because whether your pets ride shotgun quietly curled up on the front seat, lounge languidly in the back of your SUV or run circles around the inside of your car, they’re often equally at risk of being injured, killed or worse — becoming projectiles that’ll maim or kill you and other passengers, too.

Consider the What-ifs

Then there’s that extra safety issue to ponder when you're injured in your vehicle: How comfortable will first responders be when they have to remove you from the vehicle, only to confront your stressed and possibly injured pet, too? No, they’re not likely to make too many concessions to your beloved pet’s welfare when your health is at stake.

All that trauma is no fun to think about, I know. But I’ll argue it’s absolutely necessary. If you’re to do right by all your vehicle’s passengers, you must confront the very real possibilities each and every time you get into a vehicle with your pet.

That is, unless you make it a habit to restrain your pets. Every. Single. Time. That way, you can rest easier knowing you've done what you can to safeguard your pet from the evils of vehicular trauma. Doing right by your pets will become second nature, just as reaching for your seatbelt has become habitual for you.

Save Yourself the Vet Bills

Twelve years ago, when I began commuting two hours every day with a sleepy French Bulldog on the seat next to me, it occurred to me that I was risking her life in all that rush-hour Miami traffic. And after a favorite patient of mine died in a wreck, I became especially cognizant of vehicular perils.

But back then, it was hard to find high-quality restraint devices for pets. I found a decent one online and, later, an even better one at a local specialty shop. But, truth be told, it didn’t fit my dog especially well. What’s more, almost none of my clients used restraining devices for their pets. Whenever I asked my clients about them, most explained they’d never thought them necessary for the mostly short jaunts they took. (Sounds familiar, right?)

Thankfully, times change. It’s no surprise to hear that safety devices for pets are widely available, well-made, easy to find (online, anyway), and highly affordable. By highly affordable, I mean to say they’re cheaper than the vet bills you might incur if the unthinkable should occur. Way cheaper.

Some of these seat belts have also been crash-tested. And now that pets ride with some of us just about everywhere, why not? I, for one, want to be sure I’m getting something tried and true, not some pretender.

Interested? You should be! Here’s a round-up of the types and styles of restraint devices available, so you can start doing research and making some purchases of your own.

1. The harness. For canines, this is the simplest style available and the easiest to use for most small, medium or large dogs. Just snap on the harness and pass the attached loop through the seat belt before you click it. Be sure to get one with a wide breastplate to help distribute the shock of impact.

Note: If you use this device in the front passenger seat, just be sure you know whether your car’s airbag is on or off. You don’t want the airbag to deploy, as this may seriously hurt your pet! If you’re not sure, buckle your pet into one of the back seats to be safe.

2. The booster seat. Because my car’s airbag will deploy when my dog Vincent’s weight registers on the front seat, I have to use a booster seat in the back for him. (In come cases, a booster seat will be suspended above the seat, so the airbag won't be triggered.)

The booster seat works like a bucket. It not only raises the animal up so he can see out, it helps keep the seat clean, too. This is an option only for small-breed dogs. (It’s ideal for the tiniest ones.)

Note: A harness must still be worn with this type of restraining device. Make no mistake: Tiny dogs will fly into the windshield without one.

3. The crate. The large crate you've shoehorned into your car is unlikely to fly about in an accident and will typically serve as an effective restraint. Small creates, however, may not fare as well. Making sure each smaller carrier is strapped in with a carrier strap is essential. Some carriers offer this option in the guise of a larger loop on top (or on the side) that you can pass the seatbelt through.

4. The divider. Have a big dog riding in the back of your SUV? It’s not safe if they start flying about. Protect them and yourself by employing one of those nifty dividers. Though your pets might still get tossed about, their projectile potential is significantly diminished with these simple tools. Just be sure it’s a secure set-up.

Have any more suggestions for us? Tell us what you do to keep your pets safe in your vehicle.

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