When Trapper Cleverly's Mitsubishi Galant broke down recently, his dog Kona crawled into the kitchen corner, put her nose to the wall and sulked.
"Dogs like to go for rides just like people like to go for rides," said Cleverly, who lives in Salt Lake City. "She was sad because she didn't get to go anywhere."
Cleverly usually takes Kona and her canine friends, Koda and Ellie Mae, with him to the grocery store, to the park, to visit family, to work — everywhere. So, after the Galant died, he decided to upgrade to a Toyota Tacoma, the "perfect car" for his dogs, he said.
Cleverly's not the only car shopper who's putting
his pooch's comfort first. More than 30 percent of people consider their pets' needs when picking out a family vehicle, according to a recent survey by LeaseTrader.com. That's up from 12 percent in 2006 and 8 percent in 2003. The trend's not lost on car manufacturers and auto insurance providers, who are making adjustments to make sure Fido stays safe and comfortable on the road.
A dog's dream car
"Ten years ago, a car salesman would have laughed in your face if you turned down a deal because a car wasn't dog friendly," said Gina Spadafori, a syndicated pet-care columnist and author of PetConnection.com. "Things are so different now. It's gone from 'you're crazy to consider your dog,' to salesmen actively pursing this market demographic."
Spadafori herself has always considered the needs of her family, which includes four dogs, two cats, 12 chickens and a duck, when looking for cars, but it wasn't until about three years ago that she realized she was "no longer alone in my insanity," she said.
Now she, along with popular TV veterinarian Marty Becker, reviews cars for dog-friendliness for the popular Web site DogCars.com. The site rates vehicles, not on traditional things like horsepower and handling, but on the ease of removing seats, how many dog crates can fit in the back and whether the car has rear air.
All the Cleverlys wanted from their new car was space — for the dogs and from the dogs.
"It got pretty crowded and hairy in the sedan when we were all in there," said Lindsay Cleverly, Trapper's wife.
A lot of pet owners, though, are more particular.
Molle Hess, a science teacher at Hillcrest Junior High, for example, had a long list of things she needed to accommodate her five dogs. She wanted a van with rear air, double doors, removable back seats and enough space to fit four dog crates.
"I told the car salesman, 'I won't buy the van if the crates don't fit,' " Hess said. "I made him take out the seats and put in the crates right then just to make sure."
Such demands are far from unusual, said Taylor Johnson, a sales manager for Ken Garff Honda.
"People bring their dogs in all the time to see if they 'like' a particular car," he said. "Just the other day I thought I'd made a sale and the guy told me, 'Oops, sorry. My dog won't fit in the back of that.' "
Car dealers, eager to accommodate doting pet-owners, which, according to a recent American Pet Products Association survey, represent more than 40 percent of the population, are starting to offer pet-accommodating add-ons for popular vehicles.
Honda last month released a "Paws" edition of its Element, complete with a doggie ramp (for elderly pooches complaining of hip problems) and a soft-sided kennel. Nissan offers consumers a perfectly fitted "Pet Blanket" to keep seats fur-free. Volkswagen sells cargo partitions to keep dogs safely out of the driver's way and a Pet Lovers Travel Kit, which includes collapsible water bowls, detachable cases for storing treats and a D-ring for attaching a leash.
Keeping Spot safe
The increased number of dogs on the road has inspired more than just warm, fuzzy vehicle make-overs, however. It's also inspired safety concerns.
"It used to be, the only place your dog went was the vet," Spadafori said. "But now your dog is going with you to the dog park, hiking, to run errands, to an outdoor cafe. Now that dog's with you in the vehicle all the time, you're more likely to think about safety."
Dogs in cars cause two troubles, she said, "they distract the driver and, if you're in an accident, they become 20-, 30-, 70-pound missiles."
Part of the reason Lindsay Cleverly wanted a truck was to keep her furry brood from crawling over people for a better view of the window.
"If Kona gets in the front seat she'll paw at your hand when you're trying to shift gears," she said. "She wants loves and she doesn't understand that you're busy."
Only about 25 percent of pet owners currently buckle in their dogs, but pet store shelves are filling up with doggie seat belts and booster seats nonetheless. Progressive auto insurance has started advertising auto coverage for dogs. Bark Buckle UP, a nonprofit pet-safety program, is lobbying to get fire trucks nationwide to carry pet oxygen masks.
"You buckle your kids in, why wouldn't you want to buckle your dog in?" asked Gordie Spater, president of Kurgo, which sells pet travel accessories.
Pets as people
Spater was a bit skeptical when his brother came to him six years ago and suggested the two start making and selling doggie seat belts and hammocks to protect people's seats from pet hair. But now that he's worked with pet-lovers for a while, he understands why pets are becoming a big deal in the auto industry.
"More and more, people are treating their pets as an extension of their family," Spater said. "When they ask themselves whether or not a vehicle will work for their family, 'How is this vehicle coming to impact our dog's life?' tends to be a part of the conversation."
Pet-owners' car shopping tendencies are just an extension of a bigger trend that Spater calls the "humanization of pets." Seventy-eight percent of owners consider their dog an "equal member" of the family, according to Lieberman Research Worldwide. Especially for empty nesters, single adults and newlyweds who haven't yet had children, pets serve as a substitute for person-to-person interaction.
"No matter what, Fido's there every day, happy to see you," Spater said. "It's about companionship."
Lindsay Cleverly, Trapper's wife, calls Kona, Koda and Ellie Mae family.
Ellie Mae, the youngest of the pack, teased Kona, biting at her heels and walking under her tummy. Lindsay Cleverly pulled them apart with a chuckle.
"They're our kids," she said. "I talk to them like they're my kids and, like kids, they don't really listen to me."
"Five-paw" rides according to DogCars.com:
Honda Element SUV
Mitsubishi Outlander SUV
Volvo XC90 SUV
Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged
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