Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks - A scary spring sight: Dogs hanging out of open car windows

GAIL FISHER May 18. 2013 8:13PM

As the weather warms up, I'm once again seeing dogs hanging out of car windows - both frightening and potentially dangerous to the dog. With that in mind, I'm reprising a column I wrote three years ago:

Each week when I consider topics for this column, I try to think of something interesting and educational to dog owners (and the many non-dog owners who tell me they read this each Sunday). Sometimes I feel as if I write too often about dire warnings, but then I'll observe something that reminds me that not everyone is reading this column (sob!), or at least isn't paying attention or learning from it, so I feel compelled to repeat myself.

Every spring or summer, I see something potentially tragic. It happened just the other day when I was driving behind a car that held a small dog that looked like a Pomeranian or mix. I could see nearly three-quarters of the dog's body hanging out the open window, with its front feet resting on the frame. It wouldn't have taken much more than a brisk swerve or bump for the dog to be thrown from the window. As bad as this was, it gets worse: The dog was hanging out the driver's window. He was riding on the driver's lap, between the driver and the steering wheel. Not only could the dog have been thrown from the car, but if the airbag deployed, the dog would be crushed against the driver's chest. Airbags exploding isn't something most people think about, but it is definitely a concern if your dog rides in the front seat.

Three years ago, I gave myself a wonderful (if short-sighted) gift. For the first time in 40 years, I had only one dog and felt that I no longer needed to drive a "dog car." I leased a Volkswagen Eos convertible. You've seen the commercials - it's that really cool hard-top that on the push of a button, all sorts of mechanical things happen, and the hardtop disappears into the trunk. I got my dog Cannon a seatbelt harness, and he and I enjoyed riding around with the wind in our hair. That lasted just a year, and then Kochi joined the family. If Cannon didn't stretch out across the back seat, there might have been room for Kochi in the back, but Cannon had first dibs, and he didn't want to share. So Kochi rides up front on the passenger seat. Fortunately, Kochi doesn't weigh much, so the "Airbag off" light stays lit when he's in the car.

With just one more year on the car lease, I suspect I'll be returning to a more "sensible" dog vehicle next. But in the meantime, I don't have to worry about airbag deployment killing Kochi or having the dogs fly out the top - a danger not just in convertibles but when a dog rides in the bed of an open pick-up truck. That's why the New Hampshire Legislature passed a law requiring dogs to be tethered in open trucks. The law reads that truck "space is enclosed or has side and tail racks to a height of at least 46 inches extending vertically from the floor, the dog is cross tethered to the vehicle, the dog is protected by a secured container or cage, or the dog is otherwise protected, in a manner which will prevent the dog from being thrown or from falling or jumping from the vehicle."

Despite this law, I still see dogs riding loose and live in fear of seeing one of them go flying over the edge.

Nearly every spring or summer, I have written about the dangers of allowing our dogs to ride with their heads hanging out a window or to ride untethered in the back of an open pick-up truck, and I've written about the risks if an airbag goes off and the dog is in the front seat. It seems as if avoiding these dangers should be just common sense. Sadly, it's not.

Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a column topic, email or write c/o All Dogs Gym & Inn, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns on her website.

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