Travel With Pets

We wear seat belts and our children have special car seats. Confine your pets for their safety and for yours. I offer this cautionary tale, a comedy of errors.

Please don't do this.
Please don't do this.
Pet carrier advised!
Pet carrier advised!
wet paint!
wet paint!

Always confine your pet during travel, even for short distances. Use pet carriers for their safety and for your own and others on the road.

Research proves that seat belts for humans dramatically lessens injury in case of an accident, so it makes sense that pets also should be restrained and protected when traveling. They can panic and cause a wreck by obstructing your vision, distracting you from your driving, and even by wedging themselves under the brake pedal.

Many drivers let their dog sit on their lap while driving, and many drivers are distracted by their pets.

"You wouldn't put your child in the car unrestrained, so you shouldn't put your pet in the car unrestrained, either," says Col. Frank Rizzo, superintendent of the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NJSPCA).

"What people come to realize only too late is that animals act like flying missiles in an impact and can not only hurt themselves but hurt their human family members, too," Rizzo says.

It is horrifying to see large dogs slipping and sliding about in the back of a pickup. Please, those of you who do that, please buy a large dog crate, tie it down, and allow your dog to travel safely and with much less stress.

My granddaughters and I had just parked our car at the hospital in South Austin, on our way to visit my mother. A pickup sped by and a black Lab was thrown from the pickup bed. Unable to move, the dog lay there crying in pain. The people in the pickup did not return for their dog! We called for help and waited until it arrived. What an awful experience for that poor animal. My granddaughters were devastated.

Dogs hanging their head out of an automobile window are at risk for head and eye injuries. We have learned that our dog prefers to travel in her crate. It makes her feel safe and protected.

Here is my story of how I learned a valuable lesson about safely traveling with pets.

Once I drove home from the vet's office with my cat Tao without using a pet carrier. A ten-minute trip turned into a 6-hour nightmare that could have ended tragically but luckily turned into a comedy.

Our cat Tao was a lovely black and white long-haired tuxedo cat with gorgeous jade green eyes. We lived in a small sleepy town with a population of perhaps 8,000 people. Our street was quiet and beautiful, lined with old turn-of-the-century homes and immaculate lawns. Tao was mostly an inside cat, but occasionally went out and sunned herself on the wooden front porch. She lay on the railing under the pyracantha bush and dreamed of the day when she would catch one of the annoying mockingbirds who dive-bombed her.

One weekday I arranged to take a vacation day from work. My plan was to paint furniture all day, working on a commission and a deadline. Accordingly, that morning I dressed in awful painting clothes, a faded baggy man's shirt, old worn jeans, and worn-out tennis shoes spotted with paint.

I planned to first take our cat Tao to an early morning vet appointment for her regular booster shots, and then get busy painting. We did not own a pet carrier, so I climbed into my little silver Nissan Maxima and drove alone to the vet's office and borrowed a cat carrier. I rushed back home and loaded up Tao in the carrier and drove back to the vet. After her yearly shots and a brief exam, we were ready to return home.

This is where the trouble began. Anxious to get started painting, I stood there in the vet's office and debated whether to borrow the vet's carrier again or take a chance on traveling without it. I didn't want to take the time to return it to the vet after I had dropped off Tao at home.

I decided to risk it. I rationalized my decision based on the facts that we lived close by and there was no traffic.

We drove off and Tao immediately dove underneath the front passenger seat and burrowed up under it as far as she could, wedging herself tightly between the seat and the floorboard.

When we arrived home, I coaxed and coaxed for her to come out. No movement. No sound. I left the car doors open and went in the house for a few minutes. When I checked on her, she had not moved. I got a flashlight and probed under the seat with my fingers. I could feel her fur but I could not detect a heartbeat. I began to sweat.

I ran back in the house and opened a can of Starkist solid white tuna packed in spring water and tried to entice her to come out for the tuna. No response.

Now in full-blown panic attack mode, I drove through town to the fire department and illegally parked at the bright red curb right in front. As I ran to the door, the Fire Chief was leaving. With tear-streaked face and windblown hair, I breathlessly explained the situation to him. He told me to hold on and he went back inside.

Shortly, out came two fire fighters in full gear, including long thick gloves and boots. They went to work, trying to release the cat. Finally they were forced to completely remove the passenger seat from the car.

While this was going on, I sat down on the curb to wait. Unfortunately, they had refreshed the red paint on the curb earlier that morning and the enamel paint was still wet, as I discovered when I propped my hand on the curb and it came away red and sticky.

The seat successfully removed, they carefully lifted Tao up and handed her to me. They then quickly replaced the seat and accepted my tearful and heartfelt thanks.

They strode back inside the station, leaving me standing there at the curb, holding an irate cat whose claws were firmly embedded in my upper arm. My hair whipped about in the wind. I had on not a stitch of makeup; the quickly applied lipstick from early that morning was long gone. The baggy shirt billowed about, lifting to reveal the broad red stripe of paint across my bottom.

I assessed the situation. I felt too embarrassed to go back into the fire station with more requests for help; they had already performed way above the call of duty. I could not drive home as things stood. One, the cat would probably wedge herself back under the seat again, and two, I had wet paint on my butt.

Holding the cat firmly and bravely ignoring the claws puncturing my arm, I walked two blocks toward the town square.

I went into the first shop I came to, which happened to be an exclusive men's clothing store. The beautifully decorated store, all wood tones and Hunter green, stood empty except for the nattily dressed gentleman who came from the back in response to the bell over the door.

"Yes, may I help you?"

Without going into detail, I asked if he had an empty cardboard box I could have in order to transport my cat. He disappeared into the back room and returned with a perfect box.

"Oh, and would you mind poking some holes in it for me?" He gallantly returned to the back room with the box, and again returned and presented the box to me.

I stood there silently for a heartbeat and then in a tiny voice I said, "Oh, and might you have a piece of plastic that I could have to sit on in the car?" After a brief hesitation, he ever so slightly lifted his eyebrows and returned to the back room once more and returned with a plastic garment bag.

We made it home without further incident, arriving about two o'clock in the afternoon. I opened the box and out jumped Tao. With a withering glare, she turned her back on me and retreated to hide behind the pyracantha bush for the rest of the afternoon.

Cats usually go straight for the accelerator or brake area when loose in a car; Tao and I were quite lucky.

The message I would like to convey is, please, never ever travel in your car or truck with a pet that is not confined to a pet carrier.

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