Always one to look for the bright side of any incident, a good friend of mine who travels the show-dog circuit called me aside one day. Having not seen him for some time, I asked where he’d been hiding, and why he had a cast on his leg.
“I’m glad you asked,” Rutledge said, “because I had an experience I want you to write about. It’s about how I learned from my own mistakes and successes, and how others can be prepared should a similar disaster strike them.”
Rut is a dog show expert. Not only does he raise and show world-class Welsh Pembroke Corgis, he also judges them around the world in shows. In his years of experience traveling with champion show dogs he thought he had seen it all.
Until a truck broadsided his van with him, his wife, and five dogs inside, crushing one whole side of the van, pushing it into a ditch, breaking Rut’s leg and perhaps the most fearsome part, breaking the latch that held the back door of the van, scattering Corgis along the roadside.
Here’s where the teaching part comes in. First, what Rut had done right was to ensure that every dog was in a “crate”, show-dog parlance for a fiberglass airline carrier. There were no dogs running around loose in the van and no dogs sitting in Rutledge’s lap while he drove.
“One place I slipped up, though, was that I trusted the door latches on these top quality crates to withstand any situation. Two of the crates came open on impact, though, and released the dogs. Now, here I am incapacitated by my injuries, yelling to my wife and other motorists to catch the two escapees before they were injured by traffic. From that day to this, when I travel I now secure the crate door closed with a wire.”
“Another thing that saved those two dogs is that each crate had a leash taped to it. The people catching dogs didn’t have to search for a leash, because every dog had his own nearby.”
“All of the confusion could have been avoided, though, if I had gone one step further and secured each cage into the vehicle, as I do now. Should we ever have another similar accident, God forbid, the risk of the dogs being thrown from the wreckage is much lower.”
“Imagine what might have happened if those dogs had been roaming around loose in the van, as most people travel with their pets for both short and long trips. Instead of two dogs loose, there would have been five, more than doubling the likelihood of one being hit by passing traffic, and greatly increasing the confusion factor.
“Catching a show dog on the loose is a walk in the park compared to one’s average pet. These dogs are used to being around strangers and unusual situations. Most pets would have been confused, disoriented and disobedient, making them almost impossible to catch. It’s a perfect recipe for disaster.”
“Add to that the risk of injury by a pet flying through the air inside the vehicle after the impact. Not only is he at risk to injure himself when he hits the interior of the car, but he could cause grave damage to the driver or human passengers.”
Another factor to consider is communicating ownership of the pets should occupants of the car be unconscious. “Every crate I own has our name, address and phone number inscribed, and the appropriate rabies tag is either on the pet, or attached to his personal crate.”
Good advice for professionals and non-professional pet-owner-travelers, from a voice of experience.