A New Leash On Life: County Bill Will Require Extra Safety Measures For Pets in Pickups

Don't take Molly for a ride without her seatbelt, it might be illegal. KITTY MERRILL

It’s a bucolic, and not necessarily rare, tableau on East End streets — the ubiquitous big black Lab riding in the back of an old pickup truck.

According to the American Humane Society, some 100,000 dogs per year are killed nationwide when they are tossed out of the truck and struck and killed on a highway. Those that don’t die may suffer an array of injuries such as fractured hips.

If a measure under discussion by Suffolk County legislators passes, that sight of dogs in pickups will have to include a harness or restraint on Fido if the pet’s owner doesn’t want to be charged with a misdemeanor.

The bill was introduced earlier this spring by Legislator Leslie Kennedy of Nesconset after a constituent sent her a terrifying video of a dog in the back of a dumptruck that was speeding on the Long Island Expressway. The back gate of the truck was missing and the dog was standing with its legs splayed out for balance and its nose pressed up against the tiny window into the front seat.

“I was appalled,” the legislator said this week.

She explained that she researched further, looking up stories of dogs that had been riding loose in the back of trucks and were injured or killed, and, the lawmaker related: “You want to cry.”

Described by Legislator Kennedy as “a very simple bill,” the legislation was tabled for another look at the Legislature’s September 9 meeting.

As written, it would make the failure to harness or outfit with proper restraints any pet riding in an “open air” portion of a vehicle an unclassified misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or up to 6 months imprisonment.

Speaking on behalf of local Legislator Bridget Fleming, her chief of staff, Irene O’Donohue said, “The legislator supports efforts to ensure the safety of any animal — including humans — that sits in the back of a vehicle.”

The bill would require any pet riding in an open air portion of a vehicle — be it a pickup truck or convertible — be restrained either with a harness or in a crate or pen. The part of a vehicle where the law applies is described as a portion of a vehicle separate from the main passenger cabin “which is open to the elements and unsecured.”

It notes that riding in an open air section of a vehicle unrestrained poses a “unique danger” if the vehicle is in an accident or stops short.

The wording calls to mind the bed of a pickup truck, but, Roy Gross, chief of department for the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has seen sad cases related to high end cars as well. Just recently in Moriches, he said, a dog jumped out of a luxury sports car and ran off, its master’s heart broken and desperate to find the beloved pet. He also noted that the bed of a pickup truck, “can heat up like an oven.”

People don’t endanger their pets on purpose when they leave them loose, Chief Gross underscored. He said when he’s seen drivers with loose pets and explained the danger, they seem to always understand. “A lot of people don’t realize the danger,” he said.

Besides the potential for a pet leaping out of a vehicle, or being launched out of it during an accident, improperly restrained pets may choke, or break their necks. “I’ve seen a dog jump off and the person was driving while the dog was hanging.” Using just a lead or a leash isn’t safe, he explained. A harness is the way to go, if not a crate or cage.

“I wholeheartedly support this, it should be a statewide law,” Chief Gross said of Legislator Kennedy’s measure. He hopes other localities see the county’s initiative and craft their own, until it goes to a state level. “I strongly believe this will save lives,” he said.

A half dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire have laws outlawing the transport of dogs in the back of an open bed vehicle, according to dog behaviorist Cesar Millan,“The Dog Whisperer,” who wrote about the issue on his website cesarsway.com.