You may consider your pets to be a member of your family, and you can probably remember the exact day that you brought them home. You may dress them in Halloween outfits to match yours, and you may even go to great lengths to ensure that they have a healthy diet. Why, then, do so many pet owners admit to neglecting animal safety when traveling with their furry best friends?
Driving with unrestrained pets not only poses a danger to the animal, but also to the driver. In the event of an accident that occurs at 50-mph, an unrestrained 10-pound dog will exert roughly 500 pounds of pressure, according to a joint report by AAA and dog-product company Kurgo. Imagine the devastating injuries that your little pup could endure in a crash like that, not to mention the physical, emotional, and financial pain that you would suffer.
In that same AAA and Kurdo report, researchers found that only 16 percent of dog owners use restraints.
Furthermore, a whopping 65 percent admitted to engaging in distracting behavior while driving, such as:
- Petting their dogs
- Allowing the dogs to sit in their laps
- Feeding their dogs food or treats
- Playing with their dogs
If you have engaged in any of this behavior with Fido or Fluffy in the car, it’s not too late to change your habits in time for your next journey.
Here are steps that you should take to keep you and your four-legged friends safe:
- Use a pet restraint. A car harness acts as a seatbelt for your dog. It will prohibit your animal from moving about the vehicle, limiting distractions to the driver. The restraint will also minimize crash forces and protect your pet from dangerous airbags when seated in the back.
- For smaller dogs or pets, you should consider using a basket or car seat-style system.
- If you’re gearing up for a long road-trip, but have a pooch who hates being in the car, you can take some steps to make the drive more manageable for both of you. Start by placing your pet in the car without driving. Let your pet acclimate to the environment before easing into short trips around town. Taking this extra step should also ease the level of distraction that Coco or Chanel may otherwise pose to you while you’re driving.
If your pet sustained a serious injury in a car accident, you should determine your eligibility to seek compensation from the at-fault driver. This compensation may end up covering the medical bills associated with your pet’s recovery, including doctor visits and prescription drug costs. If eligible, you should also seek compensation for the emotional distress associated with having to watch your pet suffer. The best way to find out if you have a claim against the at-fault driver, and what you can recover from that driver, is to speak with an experienced lawyer.
If your travels require you to take your pet on an airplane, you’ll first want to review the above information. After all, you are likely to arrive at the airport by car!
Many airlines accept animals in the passenger cabin or cargo hold, though restrictions and limitations will vary. However, you should never try to sneak your pet onto a plane. Always investigate the carrier’s rules and work to abide by them. Not doing so may result in legal action or your pet being seized.
Here are some things to consider before flying with your furry friend:
- First, determine if you’re eligible to fly with your pet. The Animal Welfare Act states that dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been weaned at least 5 days before air travel. Cats, and some dog breeds, those that are prone to respiratory ailments, are recommended to only fly in the passenger cabin. These breeds include most snub-nosed and long-nosed dogs. It is not recommended that an animal fly if he or she is very young, very old, pregnant, or already sick.
- Pack carefully. Your checklist should include food, snacks, medications, travel water bowl, leash, harness, collar with proper and up to date ID information, and maybe even a carrying case, if your animal is small enough.
- It’s worth repeating that you should bring a collar with your most up-to-date contact information. Some owners even list a backup emergency contact, too.
- Practice manners. If your pet isn’t yet schooled in proper etiquette, now is a good time to take him or her to class. You won’t want the airport to be the first time your pet encounters strangers of all different sizes and ages. You’ll both be more at ease if you have some idea of how your pet will respond to traveling.
If you have to send your pet off to the cargo hold, you may struggle to say goodbye. You can, however, provide yourself with peace of mind about the journey. First and foremost, follow the air carrier’s rules. Find out what you will need to bring before you leave for the airport. What size crate do you need? What documents from the vet do you need? Don’t wait until you are about to leave for the airport to determine the answers to these questions.
Once you are at the airport, take a video. It doesn’t have to be cinematic quality; your cell phone is just fine. We suggest that you hold your phone horizontally for the best quality, hit record, then walk through a final check with your pet. Talk to them and get them to interact with you. If they are in a crate, walk all the way around it and show the lock feature. The goal is to record the state of the animal, and its security, as you left it. This extra added precaution is done with the hope that you never have to use it. However, should something tragic occur, you’ll have video evidence to share with your lawyer.
As you may imagine, filing a lawsuit against an airline is only the beginning. We are committed to maximizing the compensation that you receive for your suffering, as well as the pain experienced by your furry loved one.
We know you likely feel differently, but under the law, pets are treated as property. This limits the amount of damages that you can recover for any loss. However, this does not mean that you should let an airline get away with causing you unnecessary pain and suffering.
When you alert the airline that your pet has been injured or, worse yet, died, because of the airline’s negligence, recklessness, or carelessness, its first reaction might be to dismiss your suffering and offer you a refund of any travel costs that you may have paid. We don’t have to tell you that this is woefully inadequate.
Recently, a major airline offered a small settlement to a victim whose dog died shortly after enduring a tragic and traumatic experience while in the airline’s care. Unfortunately, it appears as if this settlement offer primarily intended to close the claim and ensure the pet owner’s silence.
When you have a trusted lawyer working at your side, you can stand up to big airlines and ensure that you get compensation for the full cost of your injuries. When you take the first settlement offer that an airline sends your way, you will likely waive your right to bring any future claim against that airline for your loss. This means that you may continue to suffer both emotionally and financially.
If your pet died in an airline’s care, and you incurred medical expenses to try to save your little loved one, you should hold the airline responsible for those payments. However, if you accept a low-ball settlement offer, you may not actually collect enough funds to cover those final medical expenses, adding insult to injury. Let us help you hold the airline accountable for its actions and work to maximize your compensation.
What Type of Crate Should I Use for the Flight?
First and foremost, regardless of what type of crate you end up using, you’ll want to make sure that your pet is acclimated to it beforehand. Let the animal spend several hours in the crate. You may need to gradually increase the amount of time spent, working your way up to the total amount of time that you expect your pet to be in there uninterrupted. It’s even a good idea to practice feeding your pet through the cage. If your pet is small, you may keep your pet with you in the passenger cabin.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), consider the following when purchasing a crate appropriate for air travel:
- Size: The crate should be large enough for your pet to stand up without touching the top, turn around, and lie down.
- Interior: The crate should not have any protrusions with handles or grips.
- Bottom: The crate should be leak-proof and made with absorbent material.
- Ventilation: The opposing sides of the crate should have ventilation, with no blockage to airflow by exterior knobs or rims.
- Labels: The crate’s exterior labels should include the owner’s name and contact information, destination information, and text stating ‘Live Animals’ with an arrow showing the proper side to keep the crate upright.
What Should I Consider if I’m Taking My Pet on a Boat?
When you’re packing for your pet to come along for a boat ride, it can be easy to overlook some helpful items. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends:
- A life-jacket that fits properly. Even if your pet knows how to swim, it’s important to keep them in the personal floatation device at all times.
- Apply sunscreen, especially if your pet has light skin and a short or thin hair coat. Your veterinarian can recommend a brand that is non-toxic and non-skin irritating.
- A non-slip bathroom rug may prove helpful to keep your pet from sliding around and/or burning his or her paws.
- Consider a harness or crate to prevent your pet from jumping or falling overboard.
- For bathroom needs, you can train your pet to go on a newspaper, piece of astroturf or sod, or a box. If your cat or other small animal uses a litter box, just make sure it is covered and secured to the floor.
If you bring your pet on a public boat, check with the operator on any specific requirements or restrictions. The boat owner may require you to keep the animal on a leash or in a crate and provide a health certificate.
Keep in mind that if your pet gets motion sickness in the car, he or she will likely get sick on a boat, as well. Talk to your veterinarian about medications or ways to alter your plans to accommodate your furry friend.
Consult Your Veterinarian
Regardless of your mode of transportation, get your pet checked out beforehand. Make sure to tell your veterinarian about your plans, including whether you are traveling by car, plane, train, or boat, and what you plan to do once you arrive at your destination.
Reviewing your goals for the trip will help your vet provide adequate preparation for you and your animal. Some owners may believe that using sedatives will ease their pets’ anxiety while traveling. However, doing so may actually have the opposite effect. Consult with your veterinarian before giving your pet any sedatives.
If your pet already takes any medications, you’ll want to ensure that you have an adequate amount on-hand for the entire duration of your trip. It may also be a good idea to ask for an extra copy of the prescription and carry it with you, in the event you need to use it.
You’ll also want to make sure that you are up to date on vaccinations. Again, factor your destination into what types of shots your pet receives.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue, Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814