Driving home from our hike yesterday, I let my puppy sit in the front with me. He always seems to want this, but it’s a rare treat.
Even though he was buckled into a harness and spent most of the ride curled up politely with his snoot propped against the glass, I felt his vulnerability like a new parent must feel their infant’s, imperfectly protected. I was relieved when we pulled into the driveway without incident.
In my first couple years with dogs, I dealt with a series of traumas. My puppy spent a week in the hospital after getting into a Costco-sized bottle of Ibuprofen, went through the long and terrible slog of rehab after a crippling injury, and was hit by a car because of a stupid choice I made. All of this sensitized me to dog-related trauma, potential and real. I try not to be a helicopter parent; I try to give my dogs opportunities to be dogs, run loose, act wild, roll in stuff and get in moderate amounts of trouble like dogs should, while still guarding them from unnecessary risk.
But I am always on guard. And when terrible things happen, I empathize in a very deep way.
I was driving my puppy, my sweet precious little man who I let ride in the front seat on the way back from his birthday hike, to one of his first agility trials a few weeks ago. We were on a major interstate, my dogs in their crates.
Ahead of me in traffic, I saw a big yellow Lab loose in the bed of a pick-up. This always makes me uncomfortable, but this was worse: the dog was VERY excited, darting from side to side, putting his paws up on the side of the bed, leaning over the edge and barking.
Even worse, the driver was changing lanes frequently, and every movement of the car threw the dog off balance.
And to add one final layer of absurdity to this horrible picture, we were moving through an area that was going through regrading, so changing lanes involved a big bump that jolted the thrilled Labrador up almost into the air.
The dog was having the time of his life. I felt like I’d swallowed a rock. I could see exactly what was going to happen.
My mind raced. What should I do? My first instinct was to try to catch up to the truck and honk at them until they noticed me and I could get them to pull over and tell them how much danger their dog was in.
But would someone doing 80 on the interstate, changing lanes without signaling, with their dog hanging out of the bed of the truck pay attention to an angry girl in a tiny car honking at them? Or would it just make them drive more recklessly? And, more importantly, would my honking agitate the dog even further? I couldn’t take that risk–I couldn’t chance making this situation worse that it already was.
I dropped back in traffic. I couldn’t watch what I felt like was inevitably going to happen. I still have nightmares from a brief moment seeing a little boy’s escaped puppy run toward a busy street as I was swept away in traffic, and knowing that that poor little boy could not have caught that puppy in time. My own dog-related trauma means I have some emotional triggers around this; I couldn’t look.
I started making calls. Animal control. Seattle humane. Nobody was open yet. Finally I called my friend and mentor Andrea, who looked up the law. She confirmed my suspicion that yes, this was illegal. You can have a dog in the bed of your truck, but they must be secured to something. This unsecured Lab, even though he seemed to be having a blast, was not only extremely unsafe, but was an enormous potential traffic hazard. If he went over the side of that pickup bed and YOU were behind the truck, how fast would you slam on the brakes? Pretty damn fast, I bet!
I could make a police report and the cops would actually follow up with the driver at home and let them know they couldn’t jeopardize their dog and the safety of others in this way. That was a huge relief–I could do something to make sure this dog was never put in a position like this one again.
All I needed was the license plate number.
At this point I had intentionally dropped back far enough to lose the truck in traffic. Now I went looking for it, still finishing up on my call with Andrea. As I thanked her for helping me, I spotted the truck–on the side of the road, with another car behind it.
The dog wasn’t in the truck bed anymore. Both cars had their hazards on. Some people stood in the grass at the shoulder of the interstate.
“Oh, god,” I said. “He’s dead. It’s too late.”
The truly horrible thing about this disgusting situation? There was a large dog crate strapped down in the back of the pickup. The driver of that truck chose this, when there was a simple, safe alternative right there.
A moment’s thought, ten second’s effort, and that dog would be alive.
I didn’t talk about this after it happened. Andrea and I hung up and didn’t speak about it again. I didn’t tell anyone at the trial, which I arrived at five minutes later. I played with my dogs, I went home.
I’m sure very few of us would make that same choice. I’m not sure what I learned, except that sometimes even when you try to change things, life happens.
But I do know that the choices we make, even small ones, impact the animals we are responsible for in big ways.