We had a very scary dog travel experience today, despite everything we try to do to keep our dogs safe in transit. My hope is you’ll keep reading to the end of this and share it with others in an effort to learn from our most recent and scary lesson! Sometimes failing to check something simple and routine; getting in too big a hurry; or otherwise getting side-tracked from focusing on something can be the one thing that causes grief later. This was a day that I didn’t follow up on a small detail that could’ve ended extremely badly.
I’ve traveled dogs all of my life. It doesn’t make me an expert, but does make me experienced. Growing up, we always had station wagons and cargo vans to transport our show dogs in their crates. Now, my husband and I drive a Jeep Patriot and Ford Ranger truck – neither made to transport dogs. If you haven’t got a cargo van, odds are, you’re traveling your dogs in your family vehicle and probably uncrated. Most people I know frequently travel at least one or two dogs uncrated.
I’ve traveled extensively and I’ve seen many things in my life. I’ve had the displeasure of watching several dogs allowed to hang their heads out windows be seriously hurt and killed. I’ve seen dogs jump out half open windows going down highways. I’ve seen car accidents in which the dogs inside were freed by opened or partly opened doors and hatches; only to be hit by other cars. I’ve seen people who’ve had heart attacks or seizures in their cars with their loose dogs inside, snarling at police and rescue crews trying to save their humans-which never goes well for the dogs. That doesn’t begin to span the list of ugly dog travel scenes I’ve personally witnessed, but you get the idea-stuff happens and it’s often quite ugly. My thoughts are to try to avoid some of the nasty things I’ve seen and heard about whenever possible. Nothing is ever totally safe; many things are safer in some ways and not so safe in others; but some safety is better than no effort made at all.
I’m not a fan of dogs being loose in a car for numerous reasons-I don’t care how good the dog is because safety is my concern. We’ve found that since we can’t fit crates in the Patriot for even two of the three dogs, we don’t use any crates. We make use of the Patriot’s cargo design. Buzz travels in the back passenger seat because he’s the biggest and constantly shifts around to see out the windows. Gilley and Cinder ride in the far rear cargo area together because they both fit perfectly and they both lay down once we’re in motion. In an effort to keep them from bounding out should a door or window suddenly be opened, I decided they would always wear harnesses and be secured in the car. It also keeps them from jumping around inside the car. In the cargo area, Gilley and Cinder get fastened to tethers secured to the steel cargo tie-downs, designed to keep cargo from shifting. In the back seat, we attach Buzz to the seat belt shoulder strap with metal carabineers fastened to his top harness rings; and the seatbelt is fastened through and under his harness strap. None of the dogs can randomly escape just because the doors open. They can’t hop over seats and move around inside the car either. It’s been a good system in many situations. Many have asked me why we do it and it’s strictly out of my own paranoid efforts to try to make traveling with them safer for all of us. If nothing else, it keeps them from jumping out the minute we open their doors.
Today, we truly had an unscheduled test of the system that was absolutely scary. As we were returning home from a jaunt with all three dogs this morning, we were nearly stunned by narrowly escaping a potentially awful incident. As we neared a turn in town, I noticed the “door open” light on my dash popped on. I told Brian and as we pulled to the traffic light to stop before turning, Brian yelled, “It’s Buzz’s door! His door popped open! Stop the car and stay stopped!” In my mind, I can’t tell you the horror I thought might follow. We were in the middle of traffic with three cars behind us, two beside us; at a BUSY intersection. Brian wrenched himself around in the passenger seat to grab Buzz and try to shut the door. After about 20 seconds, he was able to accomplish the mission. As we turned, I pulled into a parking lot for us to get things situated. Buzz had somehow managed to pop the door handle with either his flat collar or his harness as he’d been nose-printing the window. The door must not have been locked and when he popped the handle, the door popped open. That wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that he’d somehow gotten OUT of his harness (which has NEVER happened before) and he was loose in the back seat when the door popped open! If the door had opened while we were at full speed on the highway-a half mile back, he might’ve fallen or jumped from our moving vehicle with two lanes of high speed traffic on a narrow state road. If the door had opened even 30 seconds later, we’d have turned the corner, the door might’ve flung open and clipped a street post; and Buzz may have escaped from the car into one of the busiest intersections in our town! LUCKILY, it happened as I was already slowing, nearly stopped, at the traffic light! Brian was able to get hold of Buzz and shut the door while the light was red; AND there was a parking lot to pull into to get everything squared away again. I assumed that Brian locked Buzz’s door when he loaded Buzz in. We’ve done it often enough I rarely have to think about it because it’s such a habit. Brian doesn’t do it as often, but I still thought it was habit for him so I never thought to double check. The whole thing worked out okay, but what a minute of utter terror to discover the door popped open and Buzz was loose in the car while we were in motion – two things that NEVER happened before!
My caution to you is to always think about the safety of yourself and your dogs while traveling. Use some kind of harness system to fasten them into your car so they can’t freely exit if a door or window is opened. LOCK all your doors that your pets can possibly get close to-just like you should lock all doors with small children. As we experienced today, you never know the weird, unforeseen things they can do that could lead to disaster. If you have health issues, it’s a good idea to secure your dog in a rear seat, away from you while in transit so that if something happens and you require a rescue squad to extract and assist you, you don’t lose valuable time because they have to first secure your pet to get to you safely.
Another thing to consider whether traveling around the block or across the nation with your pet is putting together a doggy “go bag” or travel kit you can leave in your car. It should contain a spare collar, leash, bowl, and a couple bottles of water. I have one that includes added things like: a baggie of dry kibble; empty Ziploc baggies; some basic emergency items; a couple old towels; and some old toys. You never know when your vehicle could break down or you could be away from home longer than expected. Having a few extra things in your car for your dog could come in handy-especially in the summer when it doesn’t take long for anyone to get hot and thirsty. However you travel with your dog(s), just try to stay safe out there!
This concludes another update and another day in the on-going endeavor of raising Cinder. Stay safe out there!