By Mary Diduch
HACKENSACK, N.J. — At J-B Wholesale Pet Supplies in Hawthorne, N.J., car safety devices for pets — especially dogs — had not been top purchases.
But after published reports in early June described potential fines for not restraining pets in vehicles, store manager Anthony Porcelli said J-B sold out of its dog harnesses by noon. Porcelli also has about 30 customers on a waiting list and 10 more he’s already contacted to pick up orders.
The surge in orders for safety devices for pets occurred after the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals last month held an awareness event on pet safety in cars. It also explained the NJSPCA’s authority to file charges against drivers who fail to properly transport pets, a disorderly person’s offense that carries fines of $250 to $1,000, according to a 15-year-old New Jersey animal cruelty statute. An example of improperly transporting pets is keeping dogs in pickup-truck beds.
Though the law does not mandate safety devices, NJSPCA spokesman Matt Stanton said local stores still are struggling to keep up with the increased demand for pet travel contraptions — especially dog harnesses, which strap around dogs’ chests and connect to seat belts.
“They’re very inexpensive as opposed to a $250 ticket,” said Porcelli. The brands he carries range from $14.99 to $25.99, depending on the pet’s size.
At Pet Goods in Paramus, N.J., manager Katelyn Briscoe said the store had to boost inventory from one shelf for all the devices to stocking 40 to 50 of each size to handle the demand. Pet Goods said it has sold out twice since early June, and it says it sells 50 to 75 daily.
“We’ve sold hundreds and hundreds and hundreds,” Briscoe said.
At Corrado’s Pet Market in Clifton, N.J., manager Kim Robinson said this is the first summer the store is selling more dog harnesses and seat-belt clips than dog life jackets.
Robinson thinks the sales are not only because of the fines, but also because people weren’t aware they could protect their pooches while driving. Now, it’s usually the first thing customers ask for.
“We strap our children in, and for a lot of people their dogs are like their children,” said Robinson, who estimated that they sell about 20 to 30 devices a week and have also sold out twice this summer.
Ellen Dowling of Clifton, a customer at Corrado’s, said she plans to buy a harness for her midsize dog, Dusty, though she already bought a seat-belt clip for him a few months ago.
“It looks like it would be more comfortable,” Dowling said. “You don’t want him to be a projectile.”
About 56 percent of respondents in a 2011 survey by AAA and Kurgo, a dog harness manufacturer, said they have driven with their dogs at least once a month in the past year. About 29 of the respondents admitted being distracted while driving by their dog, while about 16 percent restrain them.
Since the law doesn’t require any safety devices for pets, Stanton said drivers can try slipping leashes through seat-belt loops to secure dogs — as long as their pets don’t distract them in the car.
For Nan Rabinowitz of Montclair, N.J., her recent hunt to find harnesses for her two midsize whippets was fruitless — local pet stores didn’t have their sizes. While she expects to keep looking, it’s not a priority.
“They’re trained to be in a car,” she said.
Joe Marszalek and Dana Rushnock of Paterson, N.J., said they have a harness for their 10-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Austin, but they’ve only used it once. Instead, Marszalek said he uses a divider that blocks him from the front seats.
“He always finds a way to tangle himself,” Rushnock said.
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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): PETS-SAFETY