Proposed Maine Law Could Make Fido in the Car's Front Seat Illegal

Tail wagging, tongue out, feeling the breeze: for a dog, there may be no greater joy than riding in a car, with its head out of the window. But in Maine, that could soon become a criminal act.

A proposed law, called "An Act Concerning the Transporting of Dogs in Passenger Vehicles," would require harnesses or tethers for dogs riding in moving vehicles. Dogs would not be allowed to ride in the front seat area, or put their head out of the window of a moving car.

"It raises a very important question, to talk about animal safety in the vehicle," said Rep. Jim Handy, D-Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor. Rep. Handy said he proposed the law, because a constituent was concerned about dogs safely riding in vehicles.

He said he can see both sides of the issue.

"I want safety for my animal, but by the same token I want them to have the freedom to stick their head out of the window," said Handy. "My dog loves the fresh air coming into his face."

Handy’s bill does not include penalties for violating the proposed rules. In New Jersey, drivers can be fined between $250-$1,000 for improperly transporting an unrestrained animal.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends restraints for dogs in cars, but some dog owners say the proposed Maine law goes too far, without good reason.

"Do they have any evidence that a dog has jumped out of a window and hurt itself?" asked Don Sargent, playing with his dog, Zoey at a Portland dog park. "This is the most absurd thing I’ve actually heard of."

Dog sitter Alex Clark said she can see the benefits of restraints. "The dog could easily go flying [out of the window], and if the dog gets distracted by something, what’s going to stop him from jumping out?" she said.

The bill is expected to have a public hearing at the Maine State House on March 17.

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