Buckle Up, Pup

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For Massachusetts canines, flatbed freedom and tongues flapping in the breeze on the open road may soon go to the dogs.

Martin Walsh, a state lawmaker from Dorchester, Mass., may file legislation that will require dog owners to restrain their pets when driving in a vehicle.

"There's no reason for a dog to be running around a car," the Democratic representative told ABC News. "What happens if the dog decides to chase something, a fly that came in the car or something? The dog will go after it and the car will swerve."

The dog seat belt law would likely be part of a broader bill that might also try to outlaw pit bulls as pets in the state of Massachusetts, Walsh said.

If it is passed, the mandatory dog restraint law for animals inside a vehicle will be the first in the nation, according to Mark Robinson, president of Handicappedpets.com, which links to a site devoted to pet seat belts and supports mandatory dog restraint laws.

"To my knowledge, there currently aren't any laws in the books," Robinson told ABC News.

There are, however, many companies that specialize in comfortable animal harnesses, which drivers can hook into seats to keep a loose pet from being a distraction -- the most obvious danger posed by a loose animal.

In 1999, horror author Stephen King was badly injured when a car struck him as he walked along the shoulder of a road in Maine. The driver lost control of the car, according to police, as he tried to control an unrestrained Rottweiler.

It's a story that Robinson has heard again and again from visitors to his Web site, but he insisted it was not the only reason to support mandatory restraints.

During an accident, if a dog is not belted and a passenger is, the dog becomes a risk to passengers in the crash. "The dog is not only a threat to himself when he's not in a seat belt, but a threat to passengers," he said.

An unrestrained dog can be injured, even if the animal is riding inside a crate in the car.

Of course, not everyone agrees on mandatory seat belt laws for people, so surely there will be debate over a law requiring a harness for man's best friend.

"Part of the problem is the status of a dog," Robinson said, describing the difficulty of legislating dog belts. "Is it a life form or is it property?"

If a dog is considered personal property, it's no easy task to tell someone how he or she must treat that property. Inevitably, some pet owners will be doggoned if they're going to use a seat belt on their pet.

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