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Safety Belts and Sanity

A journey to find the perfect dog seat belt
By Kate VandenBerghe, July 2010, Updated June 2021

It all started with a Golden Retriever. Well, a photo of one anyway, placidly enjoying a car ride, all from the comfort and safety of a seat belt designed for dogs. It’s amazing what good marketing can do to instill a dream in your mind: “Hey, that could be my life.” While my two dogs are usually fairly well behaved in the car (aside from that incident when Skip pooped in the backseat while I was driving ... seriously, what do you do in that situation?), I recently realized I need to do more to ensure their safety on our many summer outings, and recalling that idyllic Golden Retriever’s picture from a previous shopping trip, I decided I would stop by the pet store in my neighborhood and pick up seat belts for the dogs.


It’s not that I haven’t attempted to keep the dogs safe in the car before; Believe me, I’ve tried. First there were the car seats. They looked cute, and when I had one dog it worked great (although there was that aforementioned pooping incident). Eventually, the car seats had to go, after Leo chewed his way free of his car seat, which inspired Skipper to escape too. Major mess: lots of foam and polyester in the backseat. After the car seats came the kennels, which were one long, howling nightmare, in addition to the fact that it was nearly impossible to fit both cumbersome kennels in the back of my ultra-mini Honda Civic. Then there was the cargo net, which literally lasted about 15 seconds until Skipper busted through it like the Incredible Hulk. When I worked out the cost, it came to about $1 per second of use.



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Really, I should have known better than to think that I could just breeze in to my local pet store and buy the perfect dog seat belt. But I was clouded by the lie of that well-behaved Golden Retriever, and the employees at the pet store were so sure they had the right safety option for my dogs. They allowed me to test (i.e., they looked the other way while I tore open every package on display) all of their seat belt options. They even patiently assisted me in squeezing Leo, whose body is shaped like an Old Tyme strongman, into a seat belt clearly designed for cats. After thoroughly dismantling the well-organized Car Safety section of the pet store, I purchased two padded seat belt harnesses, with that dreamy looking well-behaved Golden Retriever on the package. 


Excited about my new purchase and the promise of increased safety for the dogs, I wanted to use the new seat belts immediately. Getting the harnesses onto the dogs was surprisingly easy, making me confident that these seat belts would work. Then came the task of actually securing the harnesses to the car seat belts. Not as easy. Once Leo heard the snap close, he realized the only thing he wanted in this world was freedom and he was going to fight to the end to get it. He twisted and contorted his body, while I stood nearby with a treat trying to coax him into just sitting still. He calmed down for a minute (probably out of exhaustion), and I sprinted to the other side of the car to strap in Skipper. By the time I had secured Skipper, Leo was free. I zipped back to the opposite side of the car to reconnect Leo, and by the time I got there, Skipper was loose. So here were my options: Get the dogs strapped into their seat belts so tight it will take them about 10 minutes to escape (giving me the chance to drive safely for a few miles before pulling over and re-securing the dogs), or give up and return the seat belts. Wiping my brow free of sweat, I walked back into the pet store with my dreams crushed, my tail between my legs, and I asked the clerk, “What’s your return policy for opened merchandise?”


While finding the best car safety options for my dogs has been difficult, it has now become an obsession. I’ve resorted to purchasing increasingly creative (and slightly outrageous) options on the Internet, and I’m praying something works soon, or else I will have to throw down some serious cash to purchase a car big enough to comfortably fit the dog crates. Maybe I’ll just go whole-hog with one of those $1,000+ police K9 enclosures. Safety first!



Photo: Cameron Woo / The Bark

Kate VandenBerghe is a recent graduate of the California College of Arts MFA program in San Francisco. She runs Paper Animal Design, her own freelance design company, and lives in Oakland with her two rescue pups, Skipper and Leo.