A barrier between driver and the animal, who is free to move around in the rear section of the vehicle, is acceptable, provided the animal wears a collar with ID in case of accident. Police officers often shoot larger dogs defending the vehicle after an accident if they are not easily restrained or contained. Few cats and dogs will take to restraining straps and tethers, so I advise crates or cages, even for short journeys.
In Arizona and Connecticut, drivers may be cited for distracted driving if an unleashed pet interferes, and pets are banned from operators’ laps in Hawaii. But if Spencer’s bill passes, New Jersey will be the first state to mandate pet restraints, according to the American Automobile Association.
Opposing New Jersey Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber has introduced his own bill that says failure to restrain an animal isn’t inhumane. That is not the issue, and as a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, I can affirm that restraining an animal can be inhumane. Some form of humane containment/restraint for dogs and cats, for their safety and for the safety of other passengers, is called for when they are being transported by road, air or sea.
Just like children, many dogs will initially fight and chew on safety harnesses in the car, but with patience and reward treats, they will soon habituate and enjoy the ride. Failure to properly restrain any animal during transportation should be regarded as a gross misdemeanor, certainly not as an inhumane, deliberate act of abuse/cruelty, but as an act of ignorance or indifference, for which there is no defense because of the legitimate potential for possibly harmful consequences to the animals and to the people in the vehicle with them.
I also urge drivers to be mindful in hot weather — leaving a dog in the car for even a few minutes could be fatal. Never drive with your dog’s head out the window because of potential eye and head injury and even death when windows are accidentally closed, crushing the neck, or opened so the dog falls out.
Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.