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Four-Legged Passengers

In one of my previous posts, I mentioned that having animals in the car was cited by one study as being in the top ten distractions involved in car accidents. So I thought this would be a good time to explore this a bit more. After all, most of us who have animals of some sort have to transport them in the car at some stage. There’s the annual trip to the vet for jabs, at the very least. You also get animals who like to ride in the car and want to accompany you on every outing possible.  And for some of us who live in more rural areas, you might even need or want to transport medium-sized livestock in the back of a vehicle.

So how do you go about doing this job safely so that you don’t become distracted and run the risk of having an accident? And how do you ensure that your animals travel safely?

7682656-alsatian-dog-in-back-seat-of-car-pet-transportationDogs are easy to deal with.  Most dogs like to ride in the car, as this usually means they’re going somewhere fun with you – picnics, the park, the beach and so forth… although most of them can somehow figure out if you’re planning a trip to somewhere they hate like the vet or the dog groomer. You can also buy safety harnesses for dogs so you can buckle them in safely – this is actually required by law in some parts of the USA.  Harnesses for larger dogs such as Labradors, Alsatians and bull terriers (plus bigger ones) are pretty straightforward. You put on the harness, which is kind of like a dog-sled harness but without the long straps and put a regular seat belt through straps in a harness. This allows the dog to curl up on the seat if it likes, or sit up and look out the window, while remaining safely restrained.  Harnesses for smaller dogs get a bit more fiddly, as the seatbelt is quite wide in proportion to the harness because of the size of dog wearing the harness. While it is tempting to let a little dog loose in the car, they might decide that where they want to be is on your lap staring out the window. Bad idea.

If you have a car with nice leather seats, you may not want the dog sitting on them and possibly scratching the leather (or chewing it, which is a lot worse). Seat covers may have to be the answer, but you could try what worked for our household and the leather-seated cars we’ve owned over the years – a 3-series BMW, a Saab and a Toyota Cressida (the latter being quite a few years ago!).  We had a Staffy (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) who could curl up happily on the floor of the car under the feet of the passengers. He usually stayed there for most of the journey quietly enough, only emerging and trying to sit on a passenger (who usually pushed him down again) when we got near our destination. Staffies are small enough to fit in the leg space and aren’t hyperactive yappy loonies, so this was possible. For longer journeys, we also had a travelling crate that sat in the middle of the back seat, being a handy way to (a) confine the dog where he could see out the window and (b) provide a barrier between the kids so they didn’t start hitting each other.

You can also put a dog in the boot of a station wagon or SUV, especially if there’s a barrier in place that stops the dog climbing or being thrown into the main passenger compartment. Your pooch can usually see out of the rear window, which they usually like.

You sometimes see farm dogs on the back of utes, standing on the deck.  If you do this, always chain the dog up on a short leash well away from the sides of the deck so he or she can’t jump or slide over the sides.

Never leave a dog in a car unattended on a sunny day, even as a safety device.  Dogs overheat easily and being left in the car can kill them very easily.  Don’t take the dog with you if you can’t let it out at your destination. If you are caught out and have to leave the dog in the car for a short period (e.g. stopping for the loo and finding there’s a queue; popping in to pick up takeaways), wind the window down a bit (not enough to let the dog escape, of course) and shade the front and rear windows. Or let the dog out and tether him/her somewhere safe.

The House Favourite Operates Machine.Cats are more of a problem. While I dare say that if I spent the time trawling the internet for hours, I’d find someone who made car harnesses for cats, I can’t see them being popular, given the general cussedness of cats. Some cats loathe cars and consider riding in the car to be a form of torture. Others like the car and enjoy a ride – a friend of mine has a cat that likes riding in cars so much that it will sneak into their neighbours’ cars through open windows or doors when nobody’s looking, emerging part way through the journey. Both are a nuisance and I should know, as I have one car-hating cat and one car-loving cat (the car lover got into the habit because it liked the sound of the little diesel Peugeot we once had). The car-hating cat needs to be put into a crate or it will go berserk inside the car, yowling, scratching and possibly pooping into the bargain.  In the crate, it will merely yowl, and that’s irritating enough to drivers. For long journeys by car with this sort of cat, talk to your vet about sleeping pills and tranquilisers… for the cat, not you.

Car loving cats are also a nuisance as they never stay put but try to explore the interior. They might be happy enough curling up on a nice sunny seat but they might also decide that the back of your neck or the top of the dashboard is the perfect place inside the car.  Even your car-loving cat will have to go into the crate. One bonus of having the car-loving cat in the crate alongside the car hater is that the presence of the unruffled car-lover will soothe and reassure the car-hater; at least that was the case for our cats, anyway.

Cats can also sneak into funny places in your car for a quiet sleep. Some have been known to sleep under wheel arches and inside the bonnet. Check your car for cats before driving. Ditto trailers.

goat-carLarger livestock (sheep and goats) can only go into the boot of a station wagon or larger SUV, or a crate on the deck of a ute. The crate on the ute is by far the better option.  Sheep poop when nervous, so if the stationwagon is your only option, put sacks down or you’ll have a horrible clean-up job.  Goats are fairly brainy and can learn to like riding in the car, especially if they learn that a trip in the car means that they’re going off on a very hot date. Experience speaking here – my folks kept a pair of female dairy goats and a wee visit in the Mitsubishi station wagon to someone with a horny billy goat was necessary from time to time so they’d produce milk.  Most small-scale dairy goat keepers will have to take the does off on trips in the car like this, as only serious goat farmers will keep a billy.  Rutting billy goats stink and this smell will cling to your doe on the way back and will rub off on the inside of your station wagon or SUV boot.  The smell will fade eventually, but a sacking lining might be a good idea. Goats can climb, so they may need to be restrained in the back or they may try jumping and climbing over the back to join you. Or just keep them occupied during the trip with a bucket of pellets.

A final warning regarding goats and cars is that you shouldn’t park the car near where the goat is tethered or she will climb all over it. Those sharp, sure-footed little hooves are hell on paintwork.