RESTON, VA -- For years information gathered from crash tests has been used to curb injuries and deaths in auto accidents. Test dummies are used, taking the place of real-life children and adults. Well now there's a new breed of test dummy, crash test dogs. Lesli Foster, Consumer Reporter at our news partner WUSA9, finds they're helping expose serious flaws with many popular pet restraints now on the market.
It was several weeks ago that Eugene Kattak's car was broadsided when returning home from a trip to have his dogs groomed. According to Kattak, "We were whipped into a telephone poll. The airbags had all deployed." Kattak's two dogs, Mike and Mojo were thrown from the rear seat. Mojo partially paralyzed when his car restraint failed to hold him in place. "He wasn't moving and then my heart sank, " says Kattak.
"He has what's called a type-3 cervical disc injury," says veterinarian, Dr. Karyn Collier.
"I cried, I was pretty devastated. He looked very pathetic," said Eugene's wife, Chris. She thought car restraints would offer her pets more protection. She says, "I mean we bought them to keep the dogs safe."
Little did she know that isn't always the case.
"We were seeing connection point failures, we were seeing harnesses break, we were seeing buckles snap on a regular basis," says Lindsey Wolko. Wolko runs the Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Virginia, a non-profit advocacy group she founded after her dog Maggie was injured in a car crash. "She suffered a strained spine and strained hips because she was hog-tied from behind and she just flew forward while that held her legs in place," says Wolko.
Wolko is now working to establish standardized testing for pet harnesses. She says, "A lot of pet advocates are out there claiming that these products can prevent injury to your pet in case of an accident without any scientific knowledge about what would happen."
MORE: To check out the full Center for Pet Safety 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study Rankings click here
In tests, partially funded by the car maker Subaru, The Center for Pet Safety is using the same standards that assess child safety seats to test dog harnesses and car restraints.
"The manufacturer either had to claim crash testing or crash protection in order to qualify for the study," says Wolko.
Only three of 20 harnesses offered maximum protection, and they were all from one manufacturer. "The Sleepypod Clickit Utility was our top performer," said Wolko.
Six other harnesses and restraints had catastrophic failure where the dummy dog was released or became a projectile.
After weeks of rehab, Mojo is on the mend. "It could have been much worse," says Chris Kattak
Mojo's owners and veterinarian agree, restraining a pet is still the safer way to go. "The question we'll have to answer in time is you know what's the best way to restrain them," says Dr. Collier.
That's a question that the Center for Pet Safety intends to answer. For now they recommend against using long extension tethers and zip line style products which could allow a dog to launch off the seat. Also make sure the harness fits your dog, that it is not too big.
MORE: The top performing harness in the Center for Pet Safety tests can be found here
The American Pet Products Association tells our news partners WUSA9, while there is no industry wide or federal standards for pet restraints, their members do conduct vigorous testing on their products and are not opposed to uniform standards.
In a statement, APPA President and CEO Bob Vetere says, "Our members are continuously striving to develop products that enhance the lives, health and safety of pets. We hope these results do not deter people from using pet restraints or traveling with their pets as we do know that the use of restraints prevent distractions to drivers that can lead to accidents in the first place which helps keep both pets and people safer."
Ed Rod, APPA Vice President of Government Affairs and General Counsel says in a written statement, "Our members are always interested in maximizing the safety of their products and conduct vigorous testing including on pet vehicle restraints. In addition, industry wide standards are often favored by manufacturers, since they create a level playing field for all producers to meet. APPA and many of our members have cooperated with Ms. Wolko and her group, so although we haven't adopted a formal position on the recent CPS report, the effort to improve and enhance pet safety and pet restraints would seem to be consistent with the goals of APPA and our members. We don't have any POV [point of view] on the actual testing or the way the evaluations were made."