For many of us, our pets are our children. Our fur family comes first – though if some tiny humans come along, the pets are forced to take a back seat, in both senses of the word. But while we secure our children in expensive car seats, and may make sure our loose luggage is safely stowed, our pets often are not.
Bigger dogs usually end up in the backs of wagons and SUVs; lap dogs in laps, and cats in darkened boxes where they can yowl their frustrations. But are they strapped in and secured? Well, they should be.
Pet stores will typically have a travel section where you can purchase restraints, carriers and covers, and most manufacturers will have bespoke cargo barriers for their models. One must dig a little deeper to find the specialty items – and dig deep into the pockets to pay for them.
There are some fantastic new products on the market that are designed to not only safely strap our furry friends in, but also make their journeys first-class. Even better, many of the funky items listed below can be found at stores run by organisations such as the RSPCA (World For Pets), which not only has many variations of travel devices for different animals, but 100 per cent of the profits go to the RSPCA. Awesome.
HARNESS RESTRAINT SYSTEMS (Small to extra-large dogs)
There are restraints; then there are restraints that have been crash tested in labs to a standard that matches child and adult systems.
While short swivelling leads that clip directly on to the collar are cheap and easy to use, it’s going to garrotte your pooch in an accident. The best restraint device for any dog is a harness. You need to find one that attaches to the seatbelt low at the dog’s back to keep the dog in an upright position in the event of a crash.
It is illegal in some states to have a dog on your lap or unrestrained in the back of a Ute (it should be illegal in all states), so the money spent on safety could pre-empt an expensive fine.
Ruffwear is our fave. They even have Youtube video of their crash simulations with test dummies from sausage dog to Alsatian size, proving how effective their harnesses are. The Ruffwear Load-Up Harness is not cheap at $130, but gets the tick of approval from crash simulations and high-quality/high-tensile materials. It also offers the dog more freedom to move along the line of the seatbelt, which won’t work as well for dogs who love climbing in to the front seat, and the buckles are a tad fiddly, but it’s easily one of the best on the local market.
CAGES AND CARRIERS (small to medium pets)
There are so many carriers on the market for your pet, from temporary fold-away cardboard jobbies to a full nest with heat packs for the pampered pooch (see below).
The light, compact carriers must be restrained, or they risk becoming airborne. When looking for a carrier, make sure it can either fit within the seatbelt, or have anchor points to secure the cage.
This is where some of the more ludicrous contraptions fall short. You can buy booster seats for your pet (seriously), which either lash to the seat and float a foot or so above the thigh cushion, or are big cubes which raise the animal (dog) up higher so it can see out the windows. These should not be used without a safety harness. In the event of an accident, there will be nothing to stop your dog from becoming a bird!
For a simple eco- and pet-friendly carrier that folds away to nothing, it’s hard to go past carriers like the PetFace Eco Carrier.
There’s one carrier that rates above the rest for its all-year-round luxury and crash-tested ability. SleepyPod carriers aren’t cheap, but their pet beds-come-carriers are sublime. In a handbag or a rounded ‘pod’ style, they are softly lined mesh for 360-degree viewing, and easy to use restraint clips to keep the pod secure. Extras include a mesh trampoline liner for summer, and an outlet/lighter powered heat pad for winter. The pod shape is not ergonomic to carry around, but for a fixed solution in the car or brought inside, it’s fantastic. At $279, it would want to be. The smaller Atom pod starts at $160 on the RSPCA website, which is actually slightly cheaper than Sleepypod Australia.
There are two main types of cargo barriers for pets on the market; one to separate the front and rear seats, and one separates the rear seats from the boot area on wagons and 4WDs (these can’t be used on a two-door – it’s a harness for you).
With the latter, it is best to check out the manufacturer’s offerings before considering an aftermarket device. While this can be an expensive option, nothing will fit your car as well, and likely won’t look as good either. Cargo barriers aren’t just handy for the pets, of course, but are practically a must for big trips with passengers and particularly kids in the rear seats, preventing luggage from coming into the forward cabin during heavy braking or an accident.
When looking for a barrier between the front and second row to stop enthusiastic puppies from jumping up front, make sure you measure between headrests and the base of the seats to get a well-fitting device, and look for the products with either clear or light mesh windows that do not obstruct rearward vision.
For big strong canines, the Walky Guard is an award-winning universal cargo barrier.
Travall is good for aftermarket barriers, and you can search by vehicle.
Smaller dogs may try to come through the centre console area – try the Bergan Barrier which has a see-through window and mesh around the back of the centre console for a universal fit.