It’s been more than 25 years since most states required front-seat passengers to buckle up, and for most of us humans, latching the seat belt before shifting into gear is pretty much second nature.
Increasingly, our four-footed companions are hearing the click of a clasp on a safety tether when they come along for the ride. Auto accessories and travel items — particularly restraint systems — are a growing category among pet-product providers, says the industry’s trade group.
“You have non-spill bowls, all sorts of harnesses and blankets — and special covers to make sure your seats survive the ordeal,” said Bob Vetere, president of the Greenwich, Conn.-based American Pets Product Association. For those pups and pooches that don’t enjoy the open road, there are the “bushel baskets” of calming products, he said, from aromatherapy doodads that attach to collars, to audio CDs to swaddling shirts that aim to ward off fears.
“There are any number of devices and implements out there to try to make things more bearable,” said Vetere. He noted that vendors of on-the-go items are a growing sector at the industry’s Global Pet Expo trade show, which took place last month in Florida.”That’s especially so of restraint systems,” said Vetere. “More and more people are on the road with their pets, and you don’t want a 50-pound flying object coming out of the back seat.”
Both for their sake and ours, it probably makes sense to keep your pups on a tight rein while under way. AAA — which operates a PetSpot animal travel info portal on its national website, including safety tips and a list of veterinary emergency clinics nationwide — estimated in 2011 that unrestrained pets cause 30,000 distracted-driving crashes a year, with 23 percent of members surveyed admitting they have taken one hand off the steering wheel to restrain their animals while braking.
Reconsider the front seat for Fido, too — many pet-advocacy sites say a deployed air bag can crush and kill a pet. And unrestrained animals can be ejected from crashing cars: A New York Times blog piece recalls the story of Ella, an “emaciated Rottweiler” found at a highway crash scene, huddled up with flotsam — her owners’ toiletries like a toothbrush and comb — that had flown from the car along with her. The motorists assumed she had died in the accident; Ella gathered up the items that smelled like her family and waited by the side of the road, hungry and alone, for weeks.
“As we keep humanizing our pets, we want them with us more and more,” observed Vetere, who motors around with his own pampered golden retriever, “and we want to keep them safe.”