The one claim that stands out the most in my mind was a young woman and her chihuahua puppy. Her puppy was riding unrestrained in the front seat of her vehicle when she was rear-ended by another vehicle. The puppy was thrown into the dashboard from the impact, and suffered a broken eye socket, loss of vision to one eye, and brain injury with subsequent seizures. In California, a pet is considered to be personal property and not a 'being'. Therefore, auto insurance only pays if the pet is killed, and then only for the cost to replace or purchase another pet. The at-fault driver and their insurance is not responsible for the vet bills or medical costs. I can only speak for myself, but my dog is not replaceable. He is a much loved member of my family.
In another accident claim, a woman was riding with her unrestrained german shephard and was involved in a hit and run accident. The woman was seriously injured, but her dog suffered only minor injuries. However, when the paramedics arrived to help the woman, the scared dog growled and snapped at them and would not let them near the woman. The paramedics had to wait for an animal control officer to arrive and restrain the dog before they could help the owner, wasting valuable time.
Think about what will happen to your beloved pet before you travel. We restrain infants and children to protect them; we should restrain our pets for this same reason, but also to prevent Fido from becoming a missile in an accident, or distracting the driver of the vehicle. There are many types of restraint systems available on the market today. I will summarize some of the most commonly used restraints and their pros and cons. The type of restraint used will vary depending on the size of the dog and the type of vehicle you are driving.
Before you purchase a restraint system, stop and think what will happen to Fido if you have to suddenly swerve or slam on your brakes. Try to envision what will happen to Fido if you are involved in a roll-over collision, or a side impact collision. Decide where Fido will ride in the vehicle. Is he far enough away from you, and tethered in a way that he will not prevent EMT's from attending to you or other passengers in an accident? All dogs should ride in the back seat if possible. They are less likely to be injured, and less likely to interfere with EMT's in an accident. Airbags are also a risk for our pets. The powder and chemicals in an airbag can damage your pet's lungs and vision. Pets should ride as far as possible from the airbag system in your vehicle. Fido is safest in the center of the back seat; this is especially important if your vehicle has rear seat side-impact airbags.
Dog Harness: The dog harness distributes the shock absorption on your pet in a collision. If you are using a simple collar to restrain your pet they could suffer injuries to their neck, throat and shoulders in even a minor collision. The harness should be properly fitted to your pet fitting snuggly around their chest, but not so tight that they are uncomforatble. Most canine vehicle harnesses have a slot or loop in the back that you thread your auto seat belt through. Pro for this system: If the harness is properly secured with a seat belt, your pet will not be thrown about in the vehicle during an accident. Cons: I have have found no cons or complaints on this type of restraint.
Tethers: There are several tethering systems on the market, one being a short strap that hooks to your dog's harness, and then buckles into an existing seatbelt or latch bar. Pro for this system: It gives your dog more freedom to move around in the vehicle. Con: In a major collision it does not protect your dog from injury if they are thrown against the sides of your vehicle. Another tethering system consists of a harness and a longer strap that attaches to a 'run' on the interior ceiling of the vehicle. Pros and cons for this system are the same as the shorter tether. Another con for this system is: Your dog may have too much freedom and decide to become protective of you if you are injured, preventing prompt medical treatment for yourself.
Cross Tethering: This system is used when transporting Fido in the back of a pickup truck or SUV. A tether is attach to each side of the vehicle, and then a leash or short tether attaches the dog to the cross tether. Pros: keeps fido from being ejected from the back of a truck bed, and from side impact collisions. Cons: there is nothing keeping Fido from hitting the cab of the vehicle in a front/rear collision. No protection in a roll-over collision.
Booster seats: For smaller dogs there are many booster seats available on the market. Research your options carefully and make certain that the seat you purchase has the ability to be firmly attached to the vehicle, and also will keep Fido safely inside the seat. This system should NEVER be used in the front seat of the vehicle. Pros: gives fido a better view and more wind. This can be important if Fido gets car sick easily. Cons: small dog is riding closer to a window and can be injured by broken glass.
Barriers: This sytem is exactly as described. It is simply a barrier put across the vehicle to confine Fido to one area. It may prevent Fido from distracting the driver, or damaging other areas of the car. But it does not prevent your dog from being injured in an accident, nor does it prevent Fido from escaping the vehicle after an accident occurs.
Pet carriers: These are soft or hard sided carriers or even cages that completely surround your pet. These carriers should be strapped or tethered to the vehicle so that they do not become missiles in an accident, injuring Fido or passengers. Pros: Fido is restrained to one area of the vehicle. This sytems gives your dog better protection than cross tethering if he is riding in a pickup bed. Cons: if the carrier is damaged in a serious accident, Fido may be able to get out and run away or prevent EMTs from treating passengers. Fido may not like the carrier, whining and distracting the driver which may cause an accident. There is nothing preventing Fido from being thrown up against the sides of the carrier in the event of an accident.
Another claim that stands out in my mind is the young man who took his older shepherd on a trip with him. He had to leave his dog in the vehicle while he stopped at a roadside diner. His dog became distressed at being left in the vehicle in a strange place and proceeded to chew through the cars interior door handle and panel. Luckily the dog did not get loose. Auto policies do not cover damage done by a domesticated animal. In some states -including California- it is illegal to leave a dog unattended in a vehicle. This law was passed to protect the dog from becoming overheated in a closed up vehicle. If you are traveling with Fido and need to leave him unattended in a vehicle I would suggest using a pet carrier. This will not prevent Fido from chewing through the carrier AND the door handle, but it may buy you a bit of time if you are just running a quick errand.
I cringe every time I see an unrestrained child in a car, but even more so when I see a dog riding unrestrained in a car, or in a driver's lap. Not only is the driver risking injury to the dog, they are also endangering my life when their dog distracts them and causes an accident! Please buckle up your kids, yourself, and Fido and drive safe!