Then comes the sharp bend in the road or the passing lane, and things quickly go from fun and games to sheer terror. The poor animal starts sliding from one side of the pickup bed to the other as the driver swings out and around, and then back in front of me. I fear for the life of the animal, and feel sorry for the driver who either doesn't understand the danger the dog is in, or worse yet, doesn't care. Maybe he or she even thinks the dog is "having fun."
The records kept by veterinarians of injured and maimed dogs that have fallen out of pickups - or in some cases actually leaped out in sheer exuberance - tell the gory story of the consequences of unthinking dog owners who put their dogs in that kind of peril. Veterinarians who do their best to save the dog's life and repair the awful damages tell it just the way it is: "It is either very stupid or very ignorant to speed down the highway with a dog in the open bed of a pickup."
Work dogs that are being transported from one place to another in a pickup or flatbed truck on the ranch is one thing, they're usually going slow and to some extent, the dog (or dogs) is trained to stay put, but even that has ended in disaster all too often. If such activities didn't end in a horrible way for dogs, there wouldn't be a state law against it.
Oregon law requires a dog to be protected by a carrier or other restraint if transported on "the external part of a vehicle" on a highway (ORS 811. 200(1)). This includes carrying the dog upon the hood, fender or running board. The statute - plain and simple - seeks to prevent the animal from "falling from the vehicle." A violation is a class D traffic violation punishable by a $90 fine (ORS 153. 018(2)(d)).
That's all well and good, but if you're a veterinarian who tries to put dogs back together after they've fallen or jumped out of a moving pickup - or worse yet, been dragged behind the rig on a leash - it's tough to cope with. Dr. Kinta Umphrees, and Dr. Little Liedblad of Broken Top Veterinary Clinic have seen and treated more than their share of injured and maimed dogs, victims of pickup tragedies.
"It makes you want to put these people in the back of a pickup and see how they feel going down the road 70 miles an hour, sliding back and forth on sore feet," Umphrees tells me.
Dr. Marc Parchman, a Bend DVM and orthopedic surgeon, sees this issue in the same way. He shared his years of repairing broken dogs suffering from pickup tragedies in a story he wrote from the dog's point of view - illustrating in human terms what a dog has to go through after falling out of the back of a pickup. He summed up his many (too many) experiences with injured dogs this way:
"No matter how well trained or coordinated you think your dog is, he or she can still fall or jump out of the back of a truck. I see so many pickups with loose dogs in the beds (of pickups) in Central Oregon that I wish I could stop them and tell them about some of the horrible injuries I have seen in dogs that have fallen or jumped out of truck beds.
"Often, we see severe high-impact fractures, which in certain areas, such as a joint, can be permanently disabling. Oregon Law prohibits carrying a dog on an external part of a vehicle unless the dog is protected by framework, carrier or another device to keep the dog from falling from the vehicle. However, if a dog is on a long enough restraint, it can still fall or jump out.
"I have had several cases in the past 27 years where dogs are on a lead in the truck bed and they fall or jump out, and the driver doesn't know it and they drag them or run over them with a rear wheel. I have seen dogs that literally ran all their pads off trying to keep up with the truck because they are still attached to the truck bed by too long of a lead," says Parchman.
Which gets us to a call I received on my Dick Tracy phone last week from a good friend who was riding his motorcycle out near the Sisters Rodeo grounds. "Jim!" he exclaimed, "there's blood all over the road out here from some poor animal that was dragged." He then went on to describe the path and distance of the blood - and I shuddered.
It was an unfortunate dog that had been alternately running and dragged for almost a mile before the driver realized the poor animal wasn't in the pickup. The owner, who was shocked at what happened, placed the lacerated and bleeding animal inside the cab and took it to Broken Top clinic close by. Three days later, the dog's blood was still visible on the road, a mute testimony of the grizzly event.
Chris Bauersfeld, manager of the Redmond Humane Society, is outspoken about unprotected dogs being transported in the back of a pickup. She strongly recommends they be transported inside the correct size airline crate or other appropriate traveling carrier. She also points out that the crate must be secured to prevent it from sliding around in the pickup bed.
Bauersfeld is adamant about these precautions, as recently, a dog was taken to a veterinarian in the Redmond area that was dragged behind a pickup, and only escaped with its life when the collar slipped off and over the unfortunate dog's neck and head. While discussing dog carriers in the back of pickups, Dr. Liedblad interrupted me and said, "Yes, that's a safe way to transport a dog in the open bed truck, but for crying-out-loud, PLEASE don't leave the poor animal in the carrier in the hot sun, or cold!"
As I was typing the last paragraph of this story, my email pinged, letting me know a new message had just arrived; it was from Dr. Parchman:
"When it rains it pours. My first case tomorrow is a 240-pound mastiff with a femur fracture. Yup, fell out of the back of the pickup. People never have foresight and the dogs suffer for it."