Less than one month ago, Theo, a pomeranian mix, was enjoying his regular ride in the backseat of the family car.
But when Maria Ratzka slammed on the brakes of her new Nissan Sentra to avoid hitting a cyclist, Theo’s routine ride was through. The force of the quick stop propelled the nine-year-old dog forward into the centre console. The dog suffered a major blow to a soft spot on his head. Ratzka and her daughter Alicia Ferguson, who was a passenger in the front seat, watched helplessly as Theo went into a seizure.
They rushed him to a nearby veterinary clinic, but it was too late. Theo was dead.
“Right after that, one of the vet techs told us that they actually have seat belts for dogs. We had no idea,” Ferguson said. “We never thought about it. We had never heard of (a car harness) or seen a commercial or anything.”
Lisa Welland, a veterinarian with Burnside Pet Clinic, says injuries sustained inside vehicles during collisions are rare for animals – she has yet to encounter any such cases at her clinic.
“Normally we’re on the other side of the fence with that and we’re treating animals who are outside of the vehicle during a collision,” she said.
Still, Welland says that restraining animals in a harness, crate or cage could save them from minor injuries that often go unnoticed, such as chipped teeth or neck pain.
Unsecured animals in cars are more often the cause of accidents, Welland said.
“How many times do you see dogs sitting in their owner’s lap looking out the driver’s side window or bouncing around in a car?” she said.
Joanna Pettit of local dog advocacy group Citizen Canine echoes Welland’s safety concerns over unrestrained dogs climbing over drivers.
“(Using harnesses) might be a challenge and it’s certainly doable, but better to start when they’re a puppy,” she said, adding that crating dogs seems to be a smoother process.
Most car harnesses are a three-in-one-style leash, vest and chest protector harness that clip easily into any vehicle’s seat. They run approximately $30-$40 and come in a range of sizes. At A Pet’s Life in Tuscany Village, sales of the harnesses are slow but steady with about five sold each month.
“A lot of times, I sell them (after) educating people about it because a lot of people don’t realize how dangerous it is to have your dog loose in the car,” manager Kimberly Pell said. “They are a projectile if you get in an accident.”
Ferguson, while still grieving the loss of her little buddy and not ready to own a new dog, wants to share her cautionary tale if it will protect other pets.
“Nothing had ever happened (to me) like that,” Ferguson added about the March 28 incident. “It was really a fluke accident.”