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Keeping FIDO Safe - Car Travel Safety Tips for Big and Small Dogs!

FIDO loves to travel in style AND as safely as possible.  These safety options and tips from guest blogger Mary-Alice Pomputius will show you how we can do both!

Guest blogger Mary-Alice Pomputius writes Dog Jaunt, a blog about traveling with a small dog. Her small dog is Chloe, a 3 year-old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. Together, they've traveled all over the United States, and to Europe.

"A car restraint is absolutely necessary for dogs of all sizes, to keep them (and you!) safe, particularly during a car accident. It is deeply disturbing to think of Chloe as a missile, but in a collision she would ricochet around my car like a bowling ball. She would be killed, and she might do me harm as well. Knowing that, I carefully chose a suite of pet car safety products, and used them for years -- until this summer, when, after watching a new series of crash-test videos, I reconsidered the available options.

The original approach: Booster seat, harness and tether

For three years, Chloe traveled happily in our car in her medium-sized Snoozer Lookout booster seat, secured to the car by the lap part of a seat belt, passed around its midsection. To secure Chloe to the car, I chose the Canine Friendly vest harness, attached to the sturdy PetBuckle Kwik-Connect tether. I adjusted the tether's length so it gave her just enough room to turn around and lie down, and considered my work done. I was particularly pleased because the harness and tether combination could be coiled into a small bag that packed easily, for use when we anticipated driving a car at our destination.

All of these choices were made with thought and care, but without any real data about how the products I'd chosen would perform in an accident. Imagine my dismay, then, when a piece of data became available earlier this year: The Center for Pet Safety posted a series of videos  showing what happens to a 55-lb. crash-test dummy of a Boxer wearing a number of safety harnesses/tethers (makers unidentified) in a 50 mph crash. The videos are very unpleasant to watch; it may be enough for you to hear that immediately after watching them, I retired all of the gear I've described so far.

Car safety options for large and small dogs

For big dogs, the best car safety options are a crate (my favorite brand is the PetMate Sky Kennel), fastened with tie-downs to the anchors in your car's cargo area; or a grate installed between your car's back seat and the cargo area (essentially turning your car's cargo area into a large crate). Until this summer, I would have added a cross-car zip line to the list (your dog's harness clips on to the zip line, allowing him to move around the back seat), but no longer.

For small dogs, the best car safety option is a crate or a soft-sided carrier, secured with your car's safety belt (if you choose to have your pet travel in the front passenger seat, be sure to disable the passenger-side air bag). Again, the best choice is a hard-sided Sky Kennel in one of the smaller sizes, strapped in with a safety belt. If you plan to fly with your small dog, or take her with you on public transit, you'll want to purchase a soft-sided in-cabin carrier. My favorites include Chloe's large SturdiBag carrier and the Sleepypod Air carrier, which are both designed with car use in mind: Straps on the carrier's long sides allow a seat belt to pass through and hold the carrier closely against the seat.

For Chloe, we chose a third option, the smaller Pet Tube from PetEgo. We originally put Chloe in a booster seat because seeing out of the window seemed to solve her early carsickness issues. The Pet Tube hangs below window level, but its mesh top and sides do at least let her see us (and vice versa). We added the optional "comfort pillow," along with a separate soft pad (the pillow is very firm indeed), and she seems to have made her peace with the change. She may even appreciate the fact that she no longer has a tether to maneuver around as she changes position.

The part I don't like about the Pet Tube is that it is designed to be hung, by two straps, over the headrest of a car seat. In an accident, the tube would swing forward and up, its range of motion restrained to an arc by the hanging straps -- but what about a rollover accident? To address that concern, I've passed both the lap and shoulder pieces of our right rear seatbelt over the hanging straps. Now the tube wiggles a bit when you pull on it, but it cannot swing.

Pet safety options in a rental car

I touched on this point earlier, when I recalled, wistfully, how conveniently Chloe's harness-and-tether option packed for travel. When we arrived at our destination and located our rental car, we'd pull out a protective car seat cover, fasten it and the tether in place, and within 5 minutes, Chloe was in her harness and ready to roll. Happily, our new solution is still workable: The Pet Tube collapses into a pancake, and fits easily in Chloe's travel suitcase. The optional cushion is light but large and solid; you might consider packing a couple of soft crate pads instead. On a trip where I didn't anticipate a lot of car travel at our destination, I'd leave the Pet Tube behind, and just use Chloe's airplane carrier as her car carrier.

What if you've chosen a hard-sided crate like a Sky Kennel as your car safety solution? I'd take it with you on your trip. Either you can unscrew its halves and pack them, stacked together, in your suitcase, or you can leave it assembled and check it. Checked, it'll take the place of one of your suitcases, but it needn't travel empty -- put light but bulky items like parkas and sweaters in it (I'd seal them in XL or XXL Ziploc bags to protect them from dust and rain en route). Larger dogs will travel on the plane in their Sky Kennel -- don't forget to bring the tie-downs you'll need to secure it in your rental car, and remember to reserve a car with sufficient room for a kennel in the cargo area.

Packing car safety gear for your pup adds a layer of complication to your travel plans, it's true, but you'll appreciate knowing your pet is properly secured in case of an accident -- and your pet will appreciate the familiar surroundings of his crate or carrier as you head off on your new adventure."

For more information from Mary Alice, visit her Dog Jaunt blog:
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