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Pets and vehicles.
Pets and vehicles.
Cats climb into engine compartments.
Cats can be accidentally transported in furniture or boxes.
Cats on top of vehicles.
Cats hit by cars.
Cats escaping after accidents.
Dogs roll down electric windows.
Dogs run onto freeways, usually against traffic.
Dogs escape after accidents.
A collar may be only thing intact.
Staying in the median.
Near freeway is no-man’s-land with white noise.
Dog found in tow yard.
Tino and the dump truck.
Automotive accidents are one of the lowest risks to your cat or dog. If your pet is missing, or if you are helping someone search for a lost cat or dog, being hit by a car is a concern, but it is statistically one of the least likely scenarios. When pets are hit by cars, it can be very graphic and unforgettable, and it can seem that cars are a major threat. Certainly we want to keep pets away from traffic, but it’s not a great risk, in most cases. People tend to worry about it more than they need to. Still, we can learn a lot from those incidents with cars in order to handle situations better.
Cats will climb up into engine compartments. Especially indoor-only cats who escape. In the case of Snickers, a blind cat, we thought she probably wouldn’t go far. Mu found her deep inside an engine compartment about 100 feet from the point of escape. She had really wedged herself in, and was completely invisible to anyone who might be looking, anyone who doesn’t have a dog’s nose. Fortunately, Snickers happened to pick a car that didn’t move often. If she had chosen any other car to hide in, it’s very likely she would have been accidentally transported out of the area. If your indoor only cat has escaped recently, you need to ask people to check under their hoods before starting their cars. When you are looking for a lost cat, be sure to check under the hoods of any cars that are unused or inoperable.
Cats like to hide in furniture and in boxes. If your indoor-only cat suddenly isn’t around the house any more, and you recently had furniture or boxes being moved in and out of the house, try to follow up with whoever was doing the transport. We searched for a cat in Bremerton who was found in New York after she climbed into a chest of drawers. People had checked to make sure the drawers were empty, but they didn’t consider that there is often a small space between the back of the drawer and the back of the cabinet. Cats can hide in very small spaces. Another cat appears to have been in a box spring that a mattress company picked up from a customer. When they opened the back of the truck at the next stop, the cat sprang out, miles away from home. Mu has found cats inside couches and furniture, where they were impossible to see, but easily detected by a dog’s nose.
One cat liked to jump on top of delivery vehicles that came to the house. Many times, the cat’s owners had stopped a delivery vehicle that was driving away in order to get their cat off the roof. Apparently they missed it one time, and their cat was found about 1.5 miles away.
Although it is one of the least common scenarios for a lost cat, they can be hit by cars sometimes. If they are hit and killed, they may be found on or near the road. Scavengers may remove a cat’s body if not recovered in time. Eagles don’t prey on cats, but eagles are scavengers. A deceased cat in a roadway would make an inviting target for an eagle because they need a long runway to take off, if they are carrying a payload, and a roadway would provide room to taxi. Cats are very likely to survive being hit by a car. If they do survive, then it is likely they will hide in silence somewhere near the point that they were hit. This was the case with Cary, a gray cat who a woman thought she hit. She went looking for him and couldn’t find him. Cary’s owner went looking for the Apple AirTag tracker Cary had worn on his collar. She found the tag but not the cat or the collar. Mu came out to search two weeks after the escape and the accident. Mu found Cary in a carport, hiding among old boxes and inoperable vehicles. Cary was very thin and had serious injuries, but he made a full recovery because the search dog found him in time. It does happen sometimes that the cat survives the initial impact and runs off to hide, and then expires in a hiding place. Search dogs have found the remains of cats who, it appears, went and hid in the bushes after they were hit by cars. If your cat is missing, or if you are helping to search for a lost cat, it is important to look for the cat’s collar as well as looking for the cat. If you find just a collar, it could be an important clue about the location of the cat.
We have had many cases of cats escaping after cars were involved in accidents. A cat can be ejected from the vehicle during the crash, but it seems more common for cats to escape out a broken window after the vehicle has come to a full stop. That was the case with Cali. She got out a broken window and was last seen on the trunk of the car. This was in the middle of one of the busiest freeway interchanges in Tacoma, on a bridge over train tracks. Mu located her in some bushes, about 350 feet from the point of the accident. Normally, most cats are found hiding closer to the point of the accident, but this was the first location that offered a very secure hiding place. Another cat was ejected from a rollover crash near Snoqualmie pass, in an area of dense woods and thick underbrush. Mu & I searched and did not find her. She was found several weeks later, at a campground about half a mile from the accident site. Cats have been found in drain pipes and culverts near the accident site. If there is a storm water retention pond near the accident, that would be an attractive hiding place for a cat. In almost every instance where a cat escaped from a car accident, the owners called the name of the cat, which is a mistake. A cat who has been in an accident is unlikely to come when called. It’s better to talk in a normal tone of voice while searching. If possible, leave some of the owner’s clothing in a safe and relatively quiet place near the scene of the accident, and the cat is very likely to return to that spot by the next morning. If you are using a search dog to look for a cat after an accident, it is very important to search in a pattern so that you won’t flush the cat out of a hiding place and towards the freeway. If possible, work in a pattern that would prevent the cat darting toward the freeway.
If someone has been in an accident, and the cat can’t be found, but no one actually saw the cat outside the vehicle, there is a reasonable chance that cat is still in the car, perhaps under a seat or up under the dashboard. If you don’t find the cat after a thorough search of the crash area, it would probably be a good idea to check the impound yard where the vehicle was taken. A search dog’s nose might be the only way a frightened, hiding cat could be found in a lot full of inoperable vehicles.
I believe that Fozzie is my dog because he rolled down an electric window and jumped out of a car on or near the freeway. I think this is probably how he escaped from his original owners because he did it once to me when I forgot to set the window lock button. I got to my destination and received a call that someone had found my dog. I didn’t even know he was missing. Fortunately he jumped out in a not-too-busy place, and walked up to someone with a cell phone. I originally found him beside a freeway in Burien. Perhaps his previous owners didn’t realize he was missing until they reached their destination, and then had no idea where to look. I reported Fozzie to all the local shelters, and I put up Found Dog posters, and posted on social media, but no one came looking for him. He is an excellent dog, and I don’t know why his people didn’t look for him. I know this has happened with other dogs, who rolled down an electric window by stepping on the switch. Sometimes people have a good idea where the dog jumped out, and sometimes it could be anywhere for miles. Dogs who jump out of car windows usually survive. If Fozzie did jump out of a window of a car on the freeway during his original escape, he showed no sign of injury. He is mostly fluff, so perhaps he gently floated to the ground. Now I am very careful to make sure I keep the windows locked.
Dogs who are missing for whatever reason are somewhat likely to run onto the nearest freeway. If you look at any map, the majority of all homes are within two miles of a freeway. Even homes in very rural communities are often not too far from a freeway. The reason dogs run onto freeways is because people chase them, in an effort to help. People stop chasing a dog when he runs onto the freeway. In particular, dogs run up the off ramp. Dogs learn quickly that if they go with the flow of traffic, people might chase them for miles. If they go against the flow of traffic, they can lose a pursuer quickly. The dog becomes trained to run against traffic. The only reason more dogs don’t die on freeways is because most freeways are fenced off and the exits are spaced out. If you see a lost or stray dog, you should never chase him. Most people don’t know this, and they chase dogs because they are trying to help. If you see someone chasing a dog, tell them to stop or you will kick them in the shins. They won’t just stop because you ask. They view themselves as the hero rescuer, chasing valiantly to save the dog’s life, when in reality their actions are likely to get the dog killed. You aren’t going to be able to reason with them when they are in hot pursuit. If you don’t feel comfortable threatening them with physical violence, which is understandable, your next best course of action is to turn your car around and get ahead of the dog, to try to direct the dog away from the most dangerous areas.
One year ago, I went to North Bend to search for a dog named Bella. She was ejected from a vehicle during a rollover crash. If I remember correctly, I searched for her for a couple of days before there was a sighting. I made the one hour drive to get to North Bend as soon as I heard about the sighting. Knowing how dogs tend to travel, I located her in an area of high probability. I was observing her and waiting for her to settle in a safe area so I could work with her and build trust. Unfortunately, other people saw her, and they got out of their cars to try to catch her. This started her running. She ran from a safe area in an empty field, down the main road for half a mile and to the major intersection at the freeway entrance. More people approached and tried to catch her. I tried to quietly tell everyone to stay away, but they didn’t listen to me. If you’re trying not to spook a stray dog, you can’t start yelling expletives at people to get them to stop chasing. They chased her up the on ramp to the freeway. Some people got ahead of her and blocked her, so she ran against traffic as dogs will do in this situation. When she got back to the intersection, people were approaching her from all four directions, trying to corner her. I tried to wave them away, but they wouldn’t pay attention to me. Bella ran up the off ramp, against traffic, where no one could chase her. I drove to the on ramp headed east and tried to get around to her location as fast as I could, but the next exit was four miles up the road. By the time I got back to her location, she had been hit and killed. Her body was in the middle lane, in a stretch where the speed limit is 70. If she wasn’t recovered quickly, she was going to get run over repeatedly until she was ground down to dust. I saw an opening, and I ran onto the freeway to scoop up her body. If people would have let me work, I could have saved her. If people knew not to chase a stray dog, I could have saved her. She was a sweet girl, and she was killed by people with good intentions.
When dogs like Bella escape after accidents, it is common for them to stay fairly close to the accident site. Last week, Valentino and I searched for Chloe. Her father was in an accident that caused the car to leave the roadway in a wilderness area. She was in the car after the accident, and a rescuer helped lift her out. They thought the danger had passed, but then Chloe slipped into the woods, possibly because of general anxiety about the crash. Her owner called her name, of course, because most people don’t know you aren’t supposed to. This probably drove her deeper into hiding. This woodsy area was between a narrow country road and the Snoqualmie River. It was a strip of forest about 300 feet wide. Chloe was seen at a house a mile west of the accident scene, but the dog at the house barked at her, and she slipped into the woods again. Tino and I started our search on the fourth day, three days after the sighting. We tracked through the woods along a trail, to the road, and back into the woods again. At the river’s edge, I stopped Tino and tied him to a tree so I could check out the footprints before they were disturbed. I found footprints from Chloe and at least one coyote. It’s possible Chloe was playing with the coyotes, since she was much too large to be prey to them, about twice the size of the average coyote. Once the scent trail reached the river, it was impossible for me to work the search dog on the slippery boulders. We tried to pick up the scent trail farther up the river. We did find her scent along another trail and it went to the river again. She was fairly close to the scene of the accident, and I thought I could hear her in the bushes about 100 feet away from us. I decided to stop the search at that point because I didn’t want to chase her out of the area. Wildlife cameras were set up, along with familiar scent items and some food. Later that day, she was seen back near the start of the search, a couple of houses away from where she had been seen three days earlier. I think Chloe would have stayed near the crash site if her owner had not called her name. Also, she might have been uncomfortable with the coyotes and sought shelter at the houses. She did not go too far from the crash, though. She seemed to be completely unhurt. Her owner knew to use calming signals at that point, because we had instructed him, and he got Chloe to come to him after a while.
Oban was a dog that escaped from a parked car near a freeway. He was playing around, preventing his owner from getting him back in the car, when he was hit by a car and he ran off in panic. He was seen a few times, but then the sightings tapered off. After two months, after a psychic had told her that Oban was dead, a couple of new sightings came in. Many volunteers responded, and Oban was located near an off ramp, in a narrow strip of forest between the off ramp and a tall retaining wall. We got him to come out by using calming signals and a magnet dog, a dog he knew. He had many broken bones, and he had lost half his body weight, but he was only a block away from the original point of escape. He made a full recovery. Why would a dog who had been hit by a car hang out right next to a freeway? I don’t know, but my theory is that the constant rush of traffic can be calming for them, white noise, as long as they aren’t too close to the lane of travel. Also, the woodsy median strip beside an off ramp is a no-man’s land where a dog can be left alone. You often find homeless tents in the forested area beside a freeway because the land is not owned by a particular person and it will probably be a while before they are noticed and evicted. Dogs find such areas for the same reason, because most people stay out of those areas. If you are searching for a dog and you want to search the shoulders and the median, you need to do it very cautiously. If you are too noisy, you could spook a dog out of a safe place and onto the freeway. With Oban, I kept all of the volunteers away. We learned of a dog that he knew, his best friend, and that dog was walked by his hiding place several times until Oban decided it was safe to come out.
When dogs do get hit on the freeway, it’s rare that they survive an impact at those speeds. If they are thrown to the shoulder of the road, you may find the body. If the body is in the lane of travel, I’m sorry to say that the dog’s body will be run over repeatedly until there is nothing left. After a day, you might be able to see a slight stain. After several days, it will be as if the dog was never there at all. In my experience, in a case like that, you might still find the collar. A collar and tags can come apart from the remains of the dog, and vehicle tires may fling it to the shoulder. Tino searched for a dog named Duke in Issaquah. We followed the scent trail to the off ramp, and we couldn’t track any farther. By driving up and down the freeway in that area, I eventually spotted a stain in the inside lane. There was a remnant of a tail. You couldn’t really tell what the animal had been, but it might have been Duke. Eventually I made it over to the center median, and I saw Duke’s collar. It was about 80 feet farther along in the direction of travel. It had come off after a while and a tire had thrown it clear of the lanes of travel. His tags were still readable, so there was no doubt that he had died on the freeway there.
We tried to help with another search where a small dog named Copper was thrown from a car in a fatal collision. He had been seen running away from the car. I could not work Tino on a scent trail because there was no shoulder and traffic was speeding by. Also, we didn’t have a scent item. We looked around the fields beside the highway, just hoping we would get lucky and see him. A few days later, the passenger in the car got out of the hospital and went to the towing impound yard to get his wallet from the wreck. The little dog was in the car. He had been seen running from the accident, but he must have come back to the car after the accident but before it was towed. I always recommend a thorough check of the car in a situation like that.
Tino and I were trying to help with a stray dog at a play field in Everett. He was on the other side of the fence for the baseball field. I was getting the dog’s attention and attracting him by playing fetch with Tino. It was working. Tino was on a long leash, and I was just throwing his ball a short distance so he could pounce on it. The field was 80 feet from the road, and there was almost no traffic on the road. The dog was very interested and coming close to the fence. I tossed the ball for Tino and he bobbled it. In trying to chomp the ball, he sent it flying towards the road. He ran after it full speed, and when he hit the end of the leash, I tried to hang on but the momentum of a 110 pound dog running 20 miles and hour yanked it from my hand. Just at that moment, a large dump truck with a trailer came down the hill. The truck hit the brakes and laid on the horn, but Tino just kept bobbling the ball into the street. Of course he paid no attention to me yelling at him to come back. All he could think about was the ball. Dogs like Tino have no caution around cars because their only experience has been that cars stop for them if they are in the street for some reason. Tino happily charged after his ball, going right in front of the giant tires of the giant truck that had swerved as far as it could. He had caught up to the ball, right near the tire. If he caught it on that bounce, he would live. If he bobbled it again and continued his path, he would have been crushed and my life would have been over. Tino and I only survived that near miss by the luck of a bouncing ball.
Dogs and cats rely on us to keep them safe from cars. Accidents can happen. When they do, it is important to understand how cats and dogs interact with vehicles so that we can give them the best chance of coming home safe. A sweet, tiny little dog named Penny Moo was in a rollover accident on the freeway in North Bend, not far from where Bella died. I learned about the accident and wanted to help, but of course I couldn’t work Tino on a freeway. I drove up there without any dogs. Using my knowledge of how dogs behave and how humans behave, I predicted that Penny Moo would have gone against traffic. About 150 feet from the crash site, going against traffic, there was a bridge over the Snoqualmie river. It had a landing underneath between the freeway embankment and the river. I slowly and carefully looked around the area under the bridge, and I saw little Penny Moo peaking out from behind a pillar! I didn’t look at her. I turned to the side and used calming signals. I called her owner, on speaker, so Penny Moo could hear her voice. Because I was using calming signals, Penny Moo came up to me in just a few minutes and let me pick her up pretty easily. I don’t know how long this tiny dog could have survived on the freeway. If someone without a knowledge of calming signals would have seen her beside the freeway, they probably would have chased her to her death. Knowledge of dog behavior saved her. She slept on my lap all the way home.