Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: An important message about dogs and driving

GAIL FISHER November 24. 2012 10:14PM

A recent "Dear Abby" column had the headline "Dog pays the price for driver's inattention." Of course I read the column and cut it out for a future "Dog Tracks" topic. It includes some really good advice and lessons for all of us who have a dog, drive a car, or ride with a dog in the car. Here's the letter:

"Dear Abby: I want to share my experience with being a distracted driver. One gorgeous, sunny day a few months ago, I happened to glance down at my iPad and the next thing I knew, I had hit the car in front of me. The airbags engaged and hit me and my golden retriever, who was in the front seat with me. He was so freaked out he jumped out the window into oncoming traffic. I chased him, but lost him as he darted through traffic on the busy streets.

Fortunately, a couple found him and brought him to a vet who scanned his chip. I got him back, and it is a gift from heaven - but he was severely injured. With time, he will make a full recovery, but my stupid mistake hurt my most cherished companion. I can't forgive myself. From now on, those devices go in the trunk. Signed REFORMED DISTRACTED DRIVER"

Abby's response: "That's a start. And in the future, your cherished companion should ride in the BACK seat - with the windows closed and wearing a restraint so that in the event of another traffic problem he won't be injured."

The biggest reason you don't want your dog in the front seat is precisely what happened to "Reformed Driver." The airbag can kill your dog, just as it can kill a small child. I get especially concerned when I see a small dog riding on the driver's lap. That dog will surely be crushed to death if the airbag should deploy. Keep in mind that it doesn't take a lot for an airbag to open. They are designed to deploy in a frontal crash into a solid barrier (like a stopped car in front of you) even if you are only traveling at 10 to 12 miles an hour.

I had heard that the state of New Jersey had passed a seat belt law for dogs. That's not entirely correct, however. The law reads: "A person who shall carry, or cause to be carried, a living animal or creature in or upon a vehicle or otherwise, in a cruel or inhumane manner, shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense and punished as provided in subsection a. of R.S.4:22-17."

While it is certainly true that restraining your dog in a safe carrier or with a dog seat belt is the safest way to travel, the law doesn't require such restraint, and it does cover several things that are dangerous both for the driver and the dog, such holding the dog on your lap. This law also covers a dog riding in the back of a pick-up truck without safe restraints (required by law in New Hampshire), or a dog riding with more than half its body hanging out the window. When I see that, I envision the car hitting a big bump, and the dog flying out the window. And finally this law would cover the dog that is bouncing around the car, jumping from side to side, front to back, clearly out of control, endangering the driver and any cars that he or she might crash into as a result of the dog's behavior.

The final two messages from Dear Abby's correspondent: One, be sure to register your dog's microchip, so if your dog does get lost, the microchip registry will be able to contact you. And lastly, of course, don't be distracted to look at any phones, iPads, or other devices while you're driving.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. If you would like a topic addressed in this column, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.


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