In a previous life we ran a dog boarding business and right now was the busiest time of the year.
It's interesting the different ways that dog owners plan their holidays. Some had their dog booked in as they completed their planning months in advance, while others rang up as they were packing their bags. The latter were sometimes long standing clients and we invariably found them a place.
Boxing Day was usually the busiest and we needed to be well organised. Seeing the range of dog situations, affections, relationships and behaviours with their owners, always made life interesting. Somehow our dogs read all the signs of a family going on holiday and it was important for us that the dog felt they were on holiday as well.
It was a source of satisfaction when owners told us that a dog got excited when they turned into our driveway. It was also fascinating and uncanny to observe some dogs' anticipation and excitement on the day the owner was returning, and the excited barking as the car turned up.
Of particular interest was the range of ways that dogs were delivered to and picked up from their holiday. This varied from the ute where the dog was chained to the deck, to being put in the boot of the car or station wagon, to arriving in its own travelling cage.
An increasing number were strapped into their own harness attached to the seatbelt, but mostly the dog was completely unrestrained in the car. Many small dogs arrived on their owner's laps and, for a small number, the lap the dog occupied was the driver's.
Inevitably we had some incidents with unrestrained dogs. One such was an owner arriving to pick up two exuberant labradors. One leapt into the car and the owner shut the door while he rounded up the other lab. The dog was watching, smiling as labs do, paws at the window and nudged the door lock down. All doors locked with the keys still in the ignition. The dog looked pleased with itself with tail wagging as the frustrated owner phoned the AA.
It wasn't just the frustration in play here but the potential danger. The car was in the hot sun and a dog in a locked car with the windows up can heat up by 10 degrees in 10 minutes. The dog gets anxious as it can only sweat through its tongue and its paws. The more it pants, the more it heats up and a dog in that situation can be in a coma in 30 minutes.
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The AA has around 700 calls a year about animals locked in cars and the number is increasing. The road service team immediately prioritises any calls involving children or pets locked inside a vehicle. Most dogs were left in the car while the owner went shopping. The trend is alarming and the risk isn't greatly reduced by leaving windows slightly open.
But it's the unrestrained nature of dogs in cars which causes the biggest collective risk. A loose dog can be like a deadly projectile in the event of a sudden stop or crash. It's estimated that a 12kg dog in a 50km/h crash can be like a 500kg mass launched through the car, impacting on the driver and crashing through the windscreen.
Most dog owners take their dogs with them in the car at some stage, and a dog restraint makes a lot of sense. European countries such as France, Germany and UK require that dogs must be properly restrained when travelling in a car. The restraint prevents the dog going forwards or jumping out windows and removes a source of driver distraction.
Dogs are an integral part of many families, are great fun and our best friends. But we don't want unrestrained dogs to be the source of our demise.
Belt everyone up, make it click and enjoy your holiday driving.