Safe travels with pets
Summer brings its share of driving challenges, from orange barrels and commuter jams to sizzling steering wheels and windshields smeared with fish flies.
But little tops the auto misery index like motoring along with unhappy pets aboard. I once stopped four times in 30 miles to settle an angst-ridden Chihuahua, who at one point managed to dangle himself in his harness over the rear seat, swaying gently above the cargo area. There was nothing gentle about his super-sonic squeals, though, and up another rural exit ramp we shot.
I know I’m not alone in both short- and long-haul journeys with the munchkins. So here are a few observations that might ease summer highway jaunts:
To crate or not to crate, is the big question. As I’ve reported before, crash-test videos viewable at CenterForPetSafety.org don’t inspire much confidence in any carrier, harness or other device. I’m afraid that for now, accepting that a crash would be really bad news for our pets is a hard fact of life.
It would be really bad news for the human occupants of the vehicle, too — experts say a 10-pound dog in a 50-mph crash becomes a projectile with 500 pounds of force.
After much thought, I have settled on a combination of padded booster seat, vest-style harness, tough tethers attached to the rear-seat metal headrest supports and every defensive driving technique I can muster. But it's still a matter of worrying and hoping for the best should a serious accident occur.
Speaking of which, I was surprised to learn that some auto insurers pay off following pet injury or death in car accidents. It’s included as part of collision coverage and will provide $1,000-2,000 depending on the policy issuer, to cover medical or burial expenses. (This is not to be confused with separate pet health insurance policies.) So, if you are either planning a road trip or comparison shopping for a policy, and such coverage would be important to you, it might be a question to add to your due-diligence checklist.
On to more pleasant thoughts. The trip will be more fun when your pet can see the passing scenery; mine calmed down considerably when I fitted the car with boosters that allowed them to relax. For small dogs, riding along in what seems like the bottom of a well is disorienting and scary.
Water is essential. No-spill bowls or large versions of the hamster-water drip bottles are touted at pet shops and seem useful. I freeze water in a couple of sandwich-size food storage tubs a day or so before any trip, and set one on the floor of the rear seat. By the first rest stop, it's thawed enough to provide a cool sip — and stays chilly throughout a day of driving.
Speaking of rest stops, the thought of a dog dashing away into traffic makes my blood run cold. I invested about $10 in thin steel cable dog tie-outs — the type intended for mini dogs — and before the car door is even open I snap one end to the pup’s harness, and the other to myself via a carabiner clip on a jeans belt loop. Awkward, yeah, but fumble-proof and safe.
Also, for less than $5, I picked up LED pendants from the local hardware store that attach to pet collars and flash in the dark. Another better-safe-than-sorry gadget well worth the price. And while I haven’t experimented with them yet, those Bluetooth locator fobs like TrackR and Tile, that talk to your smartphone, might be worth the investment if you’re on the road a lot with animals.
Other helpful hints: Be sure to take a mini flashlight for evening walks, and a “dog towel” or two. Into your toiletries kit, tuck a sandwich bag or old pill bottle with a little pet shampoo in it, should an emergency motel-room bath be needed. A fleece throw is helpful if the air-conditioned vehicle gets too chilly for small dogs, as is a bone to gnaw to ease anxiety.
A surprising number of hotels accommodate dogs and cats. Locator sites like BringFido.com are helpful but I’d call the hotel directly, too, to ascertain extra fees and limits on dog size or numbers. (And if you are headed to a high rise, consider taking a few puppy training pads and disposal bags — placed on tiled bathroom floors they are a viable alternative to middle-of-the-night elevator rides. Just don’t leave them for hotel staff to deal with.)
I was pleasantly surprised last winter when the concierge at the swanky Conrad Indianapolis hotel not only welcomed our companion with treats at the front desk, but pulled out a freshly dry-cleaned cushy dog bed. Our little girl jumped right in it and curled up when we got to the room, enjoying her bit of the deluxe life on the road.
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com