South Carolina woman warns others after airbag crushes crate, killing dog

(Scott Gatch)

This Christmas will be Scott Gatch’s first in nine years without her beloved dog Pete.

“Absolutely horrible when I realized he was lifeless,” she recalled.

The day before Thanksgiving, Gatch headed out of town to visit loved ones in North Carolina.

"Traffic was real congested. All of a sudden, everyone hit breaks,” she said. “It was bang bang bang domino effect. It was horrible."

The five pound Yorkie was Gatch's everything. The pair were inseparable.

"The best description is that he was the Dennis the menace of the dog world. Slept with me every night. I would fall asleep with him right here in my arms."

Car rides happened often. Pete loved them so much, he couldn't sit still.

"He used to go under the seats and it would be awful to have to slam on breaks. It is just safer to have a dog in a crate,” explained Gatch.

It's where Gatch put the crate for nearly 10 years that has made her desperate to share her story.

"Hopefully it will save more than one dog, but even just one is worth talking to you."

Her accident is never far from her mind.

"When it happened the airbags went off. It caved the front of the crate in and broke his neck instantly,” she recalled. “It is just something that didn’t occur to me. They are not safe in the front seat, crated or not."

Doctor Henri Bianucci works at Veterinary Specialty Care in Mount Pleasant. He says dogs and cats getting injured in car accidents is common. His team treats dozens every year.

"You have to realize they are a living breathing being just like you are and they are subject to the same laws of physics and the same injuries that can happen to people are going to happen to them,” explained Bianucci.

That's why Bianucci advises pet owners to always keep pets in the back seat so they have some kind of barrier.

"They are on your lap it is not only dangerous for you but dangerous for other people on the road because dogs are distracting,” he said.

He also says restraints are a good idea. However, it’s important to do your research. Some experts say many restraints sold in pet stores don't work in a crash.

In 2015, the Center for Pet Safety conducted a series of tests. The nonprofit watchdog group found 25 of 29 products failed in one way or another.

We checked the American Pet Products Association. They declined to comment on the tests, but tell us they "back car safety restraints."

"I just hope someone will hear this about crates and airbags and not have to go through what I am going through,” said Gatch.

It's that pain that now has Gatch doing her research. She already has plans to now use the rear of her SUV for pet transportation. That’s right. The lifelong animal lover has a void to fill.

"I am getting a dog and it is coming on Christmas day,” Gatch smiled.

American Pet Products Association responds to Center for Pet Safety’s study:

“Without having been directly involved in the testing process or selection process conducted by a third-party non-profit organization, we can't comment on specifics but we can say that we back car safety restraints for pets as a mean of preventing or minimizing driver distraction which prevents accidents harming both pets and people.” - Bob Vetere, Association President and CEO
“As Bob indicated in his statement, our members are always interested in maximizing the safety of their products and conduct vigorous testing on pet vehicle safety products. 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 study, the effort to improve & enhance pet safety in vehicles would seem to be consistent with the goals of APPA and our members. We don't have any point of view on the actual testing or the way the evaluations were made.” Ed Rod, President of Government Affairs and General Counsel

The Center for Pet Safety manages a Certification program to help pet owners locate products that have passed their testing. Those products can be found by clicking here.

They anticipate additions to this list over the next two to three months.

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