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How does one decide? Here are some tips from those who’ve recently made the rounds. “Take your time shopping,” says Mannion, the professional dog trainer. “Be clear on what you need.” As Mannion did her research at San Francisco area dealerships, she learned that the Toyota Highlander has wider wheel hubs that restrict the size and number of crates one can haul, and that its rear seat cup holders get in the way. Though the Honda Element and RAV4 were well configured for crates, there was no room left for extra human passengers, and the Toyota FJ Cruiser looked mighty cool but the fuel economy wasn’t as high as the Honda Pilot’s.

She also likes the Pilot’s extra-dark tinting on the back windows, the moon roof that opens wide to ventilate the dog quarters after a swim, and several climate-control zones to keep her dogs comfortable on a long journey. The hatchback has a double gate, so when she reaches a dog park, she can open the upper section and lower the windows, increasing the airflow for the dog waiting in the crate while she puts the other one through his paces.

What else entices a dog-owning customer? Oldham, the happy Outback owner, was gratified that, through its cause-related marketing campaign “Share the Love,” Subaru made a $250 donation to the ASPCA when she bought her car. (The campaign ran from November 24, 2008, through January 2, 2009; in mid-February, the company announced that they had donated a total of $4.6 million to five charities, ASPCA among them.) In an e-mail, Oldham also describes the advantages of an onboard navigation system: “It automatically senses shopping areas after the dogs are dropped off!” These days, when more than ever, every dollar counts, smart shopping is a definite plus.

Chart of Dog-Friendly Cars
Because one size definitely doesn’t fit all, we’re including a sampling of good “dog cars”—those whose designers have built in features that many of us look for when we start thinking about replacing our current fur-covered model. Depending on your needs, many others could also fill the bill. At DogCars.com, Gina Spadafori and Keith Turner give you the lowdown on the dog-friendliness of more than two dozen carmakers’ offerings. To find out how your prospective “good ride” stacks up in terms of fuel economy and greenhouse-gas emissions (along with other useful info), visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s site; for safety data, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety sites.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 54: May/Jun 2009
Maureen McDonald, teacher, veteran journalist and dedicated Detroiter, writes regularly for the Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business, among others. visiblealgorithms.com
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