Q: I keep telling my daughter to stop letting her dog stick his whole head out the window during car rides. She insists that it’s his favorite thing in the world and that he never tries to jump out. I say it’s unsafe. What is your opinion?
A: I write this column with sadness in my heart. I, too, have enjoyed watching my own dogs crane their necks out of car windows, capturing the sights and smells streaming by the lip-flapping wind tunnel created by my car’s aerodynamic exterior. But no longer.
As a responsible veterinarian, I feel compelled to object to this communal addiction of ours. After witnessing first hand the unfortunate outcome of a handful these adventures in canine ecstasy, I’ve decided that no amount of enjoyment is worth the potential for extreme harm these undeniably happy moments are capable of inflicting.
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Admittedly it’s uncommon. But it only takes one second for things to go horribly awry. A fellow driver cuts you off, an unexpected turn-off yields a lurch, a squirrel dashes across the road, a roadside cat taunts your driving buddy. … The possibilities are endless. Next thing you know your dog is tumbling ungracefully out the “barely open” window or, suddenly off balance, careening into the street.
Then here’s the possibility of a collision. You can only imagine what even the simplest collision does to dogs whose heads are dangling outside the window and otherwise unsecured. “Projectile” is the best word I can find to describe the physics behind their bodies’ behavior. “Concussion,” “contusion,” “fracture,” “laceration,” “avulsion” and “degloving” are the veterinary terms we use to describe its aftermath.
“He never did that before” or “it was an accident” are by far the most common explanations we’re offered amid waiting room tears. The fact that they’re in a veterinary facility using the same exact words others before them did, however, underscores the validity of one of dogdom’s most cheeky phrases, “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.”
Until we’ve internalized the dangers posed by unfettered animals enjoying the “freedom of the road,” I fear we’re unlikely to let go of the false narrative that says dogs are better served by open windows. Until we all accept that letting dogs loll their heads outside of cars is akin to allowing toddlers to do the same, we’re engaging in extremely dangerous behavior when we let them enjoy their “favorite thing in the world.”