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Even when we think we’re doing the right thing for our animal companions, oftentimes we’re not. Usually, the consequences for our misunderstandings or mistakes are fairly minor. And unfortunately, sometimes they’re tragically not. Perhaps nowhere is the potential for tragedy more acute than when we drive with our dogs.
Although it’s sooooo tempting to let our small pups sit on our kids’ laps or ride on a blanket next to us, most of us know safety harnesses and seat belts or car seats are necessary for everyone’s safety. But what we didn’t know until we sat down to research it, is that some harnesses can actually cause severe injury even in a fairly minor accident.
In our quest for the best and safest small dog harness, we stumbled across a detailed case report from a veterinary journal out of the Czech Republic, where all dogs are required to wear safety restraints in the car. (In America, state law dictates this issue, and those dictates vary widely from state-to-state; in our minds, it’s not the law but the safety that should guide your decisions). The car accident described in the report was certainly not minor, but the driver did not suffer permanent injury. The driver’s young border collie, however, lost its life when her back was broken by the force of the “rapid and intense traction on the back side of the harness at one spot.”
What alarmed us most in this article (“A Car Accident Involving A Restrained Dog Within the Vehicle: A Case Report”) is that the dog was restrained with precisely the type of harness and single tether system we often use for Phoebe and Scout! It’s a very common step-in type, secure walking harness, and I know many dog owners who use this type harness to secure their dogs during car rides.
The veterinary case report indicated the regular walking harness was “attached by a snap-hook to a single spot on the back of the harness, so that upon a collision the movement of the dog’s body would be restricted by the belt’s snap-hook. However, the head and lower part of the dog’s body continued forward causing a rapid and extreme flexion of the vertebral column….”
And then they refer readers to “Figure 4,” which, although merely a drawing, is a pretty horrifying rendition of a dog’s spine breaking during such a collision.
We can’t be using our walking harnesses in the car. But what’s the solution?
According to authors Zeleny (Institute of Forensic Medicine, St. Anne’s Hospital, Brno, Czech Republic) and Grusova (Faculty of Medicine, Masaryk University), the “ideal” safety harness will be large, padded, and precisely fitted to each dog. In order to avoid severe spinal injury, the harness should have two spots of attachment.
Where to turn for finding such a harness? The Center for Pet Safety, a 501(c)(3) (non-profit) organization dedicated to keeping our pets safe, says it crash-tests harnesses, and certainly the people behind the organization appear to have the right credentials. Unfortunately, they also appear to have tested only a small fraction of the dozens upon dozens of harness choices available right now. As of this date, the Center can recommend only two:
- The ZuGoPet Rocketeer, a harness I cannot imagine my dogs being happy with, given that they’re essentially hanging on the back seat of the car in a distinctly un-dog-like pose. Please, take a look: (Center For Pet Safety Rocketeer Video)
- And then the Sleepypod Clickit, a more conventional and rather expensive option.
A similar harness to Sleepypod is the Lukovee Dog Safety Vest*, which has the multiple attachment points recommended by safety experts. We’ve ordered this one, along with the Mighty Paw Dog Headrest Seat Belt*, which I am hoping will allow Phoebe and Scout to lie down comfortably without the pups sliding off the seat in the case of collision.
We’ll follow-up with more information once we’ve seen how the Lukovee measures up! If you have a favorite harness that’s kept your fur kids safe in a collision, please let us know!
Update: Prior to hitting “upload” on this post, we ran across the Sherpa Crash-Tested Car Harness, which we will certainly try if we aren’t happy with the Lukovee :). If any of you use the Sherpa and like it….we’d love to hear from you.
*This post may contain affiliate links for your shopping convenience and to help support our work. Our full disclosure, disclaimer, and copyright notices are found here.