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How to be a Safe Pet Parent

By Lynn Walford, June 29th, 2019

Just as parents should not allow a child in a car without the proper seat or safety belts, pet parents and pet companions must keep their pets safe in vehicles.

An organization that's instrumental in insuring pet safety is the Center of Pet Safety (CPS). Its founder Lindsey Wolko offer tips on ways to keep animals safe in vehicles.

Wolko has been working with Subaru since 2013 to study keeping pets safe in vehicles. Subaru has sponsored three studies. The most recent shows where to keep a pet in three-row SUV.

The three-row vehicle study found that pets under 20 pounds should be secured in the second row, while pets 30 pounds and over should be secured in the third row. When there is child in the second row, secure the pet in the third row on the opposite side of the vehicle.

Subaru and CPS worked with MGA Research Corporation, an independent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contracted testing laboratory, to conduct rigorous crash testing on leading pet crates and carriers.

Proper crate sizing is important to ensure safe travels, as pets should always fit snugly in their crate with just enough room to be comfortable. This will help minimize the risk of pet injury in the case of a sudden stop or accident. It is also imperative that pet owners secure crates and carriers for travel using strength-rated cargo area anchor straps and not elastic or rubber bungee cords.

Dogs are very resilient when constrained in a kennel. Wolko says in fact, she's knows of a report from Gunner Kennels in which a dog was in a Gunner Kennel and the car turned over and the dog survived.

"We have received 'save' reports about dogs surviving with SleepyPod carriers and harnesses as well," said Wolko.

Harnesses, pet crates, and carriers offer safety not only for the pet, but protect passengers by preventing pets from becoming a projectile in case of an accident or sudden stop. Before buying a pet safety product, make sure that has been safety tested, warns Wolko.

Wolko advises that pet owners should be very careful about putting the carrier or crate in the front passenger seat. She relates the sad story of a Yorkshire terrier that was in a carrier in the front passenger seat when airbags deployed, crushing the carrier and killing the dog instantly. Not all cars have front airbag sensors to shut off the airbag when something light is in the seat; therefore it is always best to keep the animal in the back seat. Pets should be kept in the back seat not just for safety but also to avoid driver distraction.

The Center for Pet Safety also conducted rigorous crash testing on commonly available pet safety restraints using realistic, specially designed, crash test dogs (not live animals). They have developed an independent data-driven certification program for suppliers based on data for harnesses, crates, and carriers; additional certifications will be published later. She advises never leave a dog in a car unattended.

-- Heat Stroke

"If you can't take a pet with you leave it at home," said Wolko, especially in hot weather. Heatstroke can happen in minutes and can be deadly for dogs.

Even working dogs have been known to experience heatstroke. In fact one of the major causes of death in police dogs is heat in vehicles.

"When you see a dog in a hot car, call 911. The emergency operator will give you instructions and they will let you know what to do," said Wolko who notes whether you're allowed to break the glass to rescue the animal depends on the jurisdiction.

Recently Tesla's Dog Mode received media attention. It leaves the climate control on after the driver leaves the car. If the battery reaches less than 20 percent, the owner receives a notification in the Tesla app.

"We don't want people to have a false sense of security with Dog Mode in Tesla vehicles. We want to research it and test it out in our lab. We don't want to foster bad behavior," said Wolko.

She is also concerned about a trend for temperature detectors in cars that have not been tested. For example a smartphone or app-related device that warns the shopper that the temperature is high in the vehicle.

"Sometimes there is no cellular connection or someone will be out of cellular range and not get a warning. This could lead to disastrous consequences," said Wolko.

-- Dognappers

Another reason not to leave pets in a vehicle is because dognappers steal dogs from cars. Pet theft is on the rise, so leaving your pet unattended in your vehicle is not ideal.

-- Roadworthy

Wolko cautions to be careful about claims from manufacturers that restraints have been tested. The center has seen cases in which the supplier claims it has been tested but in fact animals have died using the devices. CPS was unable to substantiate the marketing claims based on the poor performance of the restraint in the test lab.

Often dogs are portrayed as hanging their head out the window while the car is moving sniffing the breeze.

"Don't let the dog put its nose and head out the window. Road debris can get into the eyes also there could be damage to the nasal cavity," said Wolko, "These are painful and expensive injuries.

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