A dog riding loose in the back of a pickup with its head held high sniffing the wind may seem like an iconic image of summer. But it's illegal in Anchorage.
With the onset of warm weather, police are warning drivers that pooches loose in the backs of pickups can mean fines ranging from $50 to $1,000.
"Flying dogs in traffic is not a good thing," said Lt. Dave Parker.
The practice, which is more common in rural areas than urban, is a traffic hazard and can easily lead to serious injuries or death for the dogs, he said.
One quick turn or stop and the pup turns into a missile, Parker said. Circle a roundabout and the dog could catapult into traffic.
In 2008, Anchorage police issued only three citations for "carrying animals on (the) outside of (a) vehicle," said theft Det. Jackie Conn, the police department's new specialist and point contact on animal cruelty. Conn, who got the special designation in December because she's an animal lover, said she recently sent an internal memo to the department reminding them of the law.
"I think a lot of officers didn't know," she said.
She's hoping that with more awareness, the number of citations will go up and the number of dogs prancing around the beds of pickups on the Seward Highway will go down.
Drivers have several options to be safer and avoid a fine, police say. Put the dog in the cab of the truck. Or enclose the pickup with sides and a tailgate that are at least 46 inches tall. Or secure the animal either in a carrier or by using a cross tether that ties the animal to the truck in such a way that it can't go over the bed or choke itself. Safe, effective tethers are sold in pet stores specifically for restraining dogs in the backs of pickups.
Pet Emergency vet Dr. Melissa Diederich said her animal hospital gets several cases a month, sometimes several a week, of people rushing in with their dogs battered after flying from a truck.
"They come in with broken bones, road rash," she said. "When you are going 55 to 60 mph and get thrown, you're not going to have your skin intact."
It's the lucky ones that survive, she said. They can cost their owners anywhere from a relatively small $200 to thousands of dollars to mend.
Sometimes the dog owners themselves run over their pets with the back wheels of the truck, she said. Other times, it's oncoming traffic that hits them. Or, it's just the impact of a hard fall that results in fractured bones or amputated paws.
Diederich said staffers at the hospital usually try to teach pet owners what a bad idea carrying a loose dog in the truck is. But some are stubborn. She's seen owners leave the hospital and drive away with their mended pets, once again, in the back of the pickup.
Find Megan Holland online at adn.com/contact/mholland or call 257-4343.