LOS ANGELES — To make the world safer for pets, Lindsey Wolko had to design an indestructible dog.
Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, her nonprofit Center for Pet Safety in Reston, Va., has a set of crash-test dog dummies that were battered, throttled and sent flying to test several car safety restraints.
The rare study of travel products marketed to animal owners was released recently and will be followed by tests of car crates, carriers and barriers. Life jackets are on the short list of products to be tested as soon as funding is found.
Inspiration for the center and its inaugural test came nearly a decade ago. Wolko's dog, Maggie, was seriously injured in a traffic incident despite wearing a harness.
After Maggie's recovery, the automotive engineer started performing safety tests on her pet and other dogs. Often, she found the safety equipment, toys and cleaning products were mostly untested and either failed to work as promised or fell apart.
"Because of the lack of oversight and the lack of testing in the industry — it is quite the 'Wild West' out there — you are consistently putting consumers and their dogs at risk," Wolko said.
Wolko got her nonprofit credentials, officially opened the safety center in July 2011, met with engineers and started building a bulldog dummy.
The 55-pound bulldog is stuffed with computer equipment and has the same center of gravity as the real animal. The model was used in the pilot project reviewing four products. MGA Resource Corp., an independent lab in Manassas, Va., conducted all the crash tests using Wolko's dummies.
When the pilot results were released, Subaru of America Inc. signed on to fund the rest of the study.
The final tests included a 75-pound golden retriever, 45-pound border collie and 25-pound terrier mix.
The Sleepypod Clickit Utility Harness was the only one out of seven that protected all the dummies in 30 mph crashes. "This was the only brand that consistently kept the dog on the seat for every test. It prevented the launch of the dogs and prevented side-to-side and fore-and-aft rotation of the dog and helped keep the spine fairly stable," Wolko said.
It's not surprising that attention is being focused on safety because a huge number of car buyers want to drive with their pets, said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com. "A pet that isn't harnessed in a car is really dangerous. That animal propels through a car like a missile."