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website of author Paula Offutt

Vehicle Safety and Your SD

Slip Sliding Away….

It was pouring rain. The dirt road was rutted, slick, steep, and had that big hump in the middle. Just as it started to level off, we slid into a ditch. We landed partway on the driver’s side of the van. My wheelchair was almost in my lap, its simple restraint broken. But Joella, who was in the back of the van, got tossed through the air, hitting all sorts of things along the way.

I was trapped in the driver’s seat. Joella was whimpering.

But God and luck where on our side. A woman happened to be coming down the hill just behind me. She rushed to the van, made sure I was okay, and called the Fire Department. Her husband works there and she was on her way to take his lunch. The big fire truck arrived and, while they could get me out, they could not get to Joella. They hooked the van (a giant Chevy G20) to a winch and, after some fancy tricks using the rope, the winch, and a tree, the van was pulled out of the ditch.

One of the firemen checked Joella out for me. She was scared and still whining, but fine. After much thanks, we got back into the van and continued on our way. I do well in a crisis and remain cool headed and intelligent. However, once it is over, I turn into a quivering mass of jelly. We pulled into a parking lot and I lay on the back bench with Joella, crying and holding her tight.

Joella now has a seat belt of her very own and I now have a truck with four wheel drive. Joella’s seatbelt, after trying out various ones, is a padded harness attached to the seat belt via a tab (short loop leash) that has the seat belt through it. Joella goes everywhere with me in the truck. On these country roads, you never know what will be in the road around the bend: anything from a stalled tractor to an irritated bull to cyclists. Brake slamming and swerves are a regular occurrence. Our Service Dogs do a lot to help us and it is our duty to keep them safe and healthy.

Most canine restraints are allegedly designed so the vehicle seatbelt is threaded through a loop on the back. Personally, I have yet to find one that works that well. They were designed back when most back seats were only the lap belt. They now are getting better at the design due to the predominance of combination seat belts in back seats. The tab is a restraint on its own, and can hook to a regular harness and have the seatbelt threaded through it. But this is my own way after several different tries.

The vehicle restraints will not keep your dog in place since they are only attached to the harness. Joella still hits the back of the seat when I slam on the brakes. But the idea is, she will only go as far as the tab is long. She will not go out a window or get thrown from the back to the front seats. She also will be unable to run away from the accident.

And no matter what kind of restraint you choose to use, the dog should never be in the front seat that has an airbag. Never. Our truck is a ‘CrewCab’ which means it has four doors. We bought this kind of truck because we needed one that Joella (a.k.a Her Highness) would be happy and safe in.

The ‘Ruff Rider’ is the most famous dog restraint; prices for the Ruff Rider vary from $10 – $30, depending on size. It can be found almost everywhere. They now make one with the ‘sheepskin’ lining. Another is the ‘Travelin’ Dog Car Harness’ by Comfort Ride. It is also padded. Prices start at $20 and go upwards from there, again depending on size. The ‘Ride ‘n Walk’ Harness is for both car and regular use. It is not padded and prices range from $10 – $25. Joella has a padded harness by Four Paws and they call it a ‘safety seat vest’. I can’t remember how much I paid for it but I found it online for $20- $25.

In researching for this article, I came across a new harness concept – the GoAnywhere Car Harness. It is two parts – a step-in harness and a tab with one end that goes directly to the ‘female’ seatbelt end.

The tab goes by various names such as ‘Car Straps’ (made by Premier), tethers, and ‘city leads’. I also found a tab with the seat belt buckle end. It is the ‘Ultimate Seat Leash’ by Hamilton Products and is for around $20. Despite the description on the PetCo website, these tabs by whatever name should NEVER be used as a restraint attached to a collar. The main part of a restraint is the harness.

I found these various harnesses (and there are lots more) at the following websites: jbpet.com; petco.com; drsfostersmith.com; sitstay.com; and petsmart.com. All of them use the plastic clips which are not too difficult to undo. One uses a seatbelt like buckle on the harness itself so it releases with the push of a button. Almost any pet supply store will have a vehicle restraint. Shop around to find one that fits your dog and is easy for you to use.

While we are on the subject of canines and vehicle safety – do NOT leave your dog, service dog or otherwise, in the car in the summer. Even with the windows down, the heat builds up to unbelievable levels. Try this: take an outdoor thermometer with you. Leave it in the car, noting the temperature as you get out. Leave the windows ‘cracked’ for air. Go in a store ‘for just a minute’ and when you return, check the temp again. Now do a longer stint in a store and check the temp yet again. Scary I tell you.

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Originally published in EDSToday newsletter issue #10.
Other related articles can be found on the non-fiction page of this site.