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Stepping into the role of Dog Seatbelt Lady...

 

If you'd go to the ends of the earth to give your dog the best life possible, you're in the right place, and we're going to be good friends.

You've got to be a dog person to truly understand the joy of having a dog.  You're not a dog "owner," but rather, you're in a unique position of dog parent/best friend.

The unconditional love that dogs give you - it's just fills up your heart, right?

Your dog is "spoiled," but you believe that's the way it should be.  Your dog deserves everything he/she wants and you want to give your furbaby all the love, adventure, and fun experiences in the world.  All you want is to keep your dog safe, and give him/her a good life.

Does that sound like you?  Because that's how I feel about my dogs.  When they're happy, I'm happy.

I say "they," which can be confusing to someone who hasn't met me before.  Because it might give you the idea that I have more than 1 dog running around.  But actually, my little 40lb lab mix, River, is the one who'll greet you if we ever cross paths.

My 70lb chocolate lab, Piper, is waiting for me at the Rainbow Bridge.

Piper died from a car crash in June 2017...but she is still very much the absolute love of my life.

Image by Bryan Garces

Piper, my very best 4-legged friend, died from a car crash.  She was never buckled up.  I'm on a journey to talk about the thing no one talks about - dog seatbelt safety.

The day that changed the course of my life.

6:40PM on Route 108, heading towards Centennial Park.

I glanced to my right and saw my ex looking at his phone.  I looked at the clock.  6:40, yeah we're going to make it on time.  I was dropping him off at an appointment, and Piper and I were heading off for a good walk around Centennial Park.

But...in the blink of an eye, another car appeared in front of mine.  I knew we were going to collide.  How something so fast goes in slow motion in front of your eyes is beyond my understanding.

I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could.  I can still hear the sound of crushing metal and the taste of blood in my mouth, feel the fear of opening my eyes.

My wrist, leg and chest were throbbing. I couldn't move and was stuck behind my seatbelt. My ex managed to get out of the car.  I felt really weak and remember a stranger coming up to see if I was okay.  

"Piper..." I kept thinking.  

It felt like an eternity waiting for help to arrive, and when they came, there was chatter about Piper and how they would get her out of the car.  How they had to get her out first. They covered her with a blanket and said "watch the teeth," before they came to cut the seatbelt off of me.

As the shock started to wear off on the way to the hospital, I asked about Piper and was assured she was in good hands.  So she must be okay, I thought.

But I was wrong.  I knew the second I heard her name spoken in the tiniest whisper later that night behind the hospital curtain that things were NOT okay.  Piper had broken her spine, and was paralyzed.  The vet had called to share that Piper needed another dose of pain meds to stay "comfortable," and there was nothing else they could do for her.

When I got to the vet, I had already decided I had to say goodbye.  My best friend had been waiting for hours alone and in pain, unable to move.  It was already so hard for me to move due to my injuries, and all I wanted to do was just crawl on top of the table and lay next to her.  I sang her our song, "I Love You a Bushel and a Peck," and my world fell apart.  

Piper was gone, and I died inside, completely disconnecting from anything and everything around me.  The person I was before that crash no longer exists.

Today, I'm a new person, love who I am and what I stand for.  But it was a very long road to get here.

 

 

Navigating the aftermath.

A dog bed with no dog in it.  

 

Re-telling what happened to everyone who was a part of Piper's life.  

 

Fuming at the words "Sorry for your loss."  

 

Cancelling appointments.

Going to therapy.  

 

Moving.  

 

Returning to work.  

 

Fake smiling.  

 

Living a new normal.  

 

Learning how to function without Piper.  

I was NOT a fan.

Learning to heal.

I haven't talked much about my life after the crash, because to be honest, it really sucked.

I was in such a depression, and every single day was a constant struggle.  For 3 years, I lived like this.

I grieved the loss of my best friend.  I tried to leave my relationship several times, until one day I couldn't take it anymore.  I let guilt eat me up, left my career, and dove head first into spreading awareness for dog seatbelt safety, which was the only way I could function from day to day.  I spread awareness for dog seatbelt safety because it's my passion, but today, I do it from a place of love and light, not from sadness and pain. 

remember the exact day I woke up.  The fog lifted.  It was a gradual change, until one day I said out loud, surprising myself, "I love my life."

 

Today, I'm one of the happiest and most grateful people you might meet.  I take the quote "live life to the fullest," to heart, and put it into action.

If you're struggling with grief, depression or anxiety, you're not alone. 

Let me share my story with you.  Maybe your walk through the hardship in your life won't be a 3 year struggle like mine did.

And if you want to chat, just reach out anytime.  I'm here to help.

Living for a greater purpose.

After the crash, I contemplated the meaning of life for many months.

Why am I still alive?  Why didn't I die?  Why did Piper have to go?  

I dreaded going to work every day, without an ounce of motivation to get out of my car and walk into the building.  Many days, I parked in the back of the parking lot, cried for no reason, and sat there until the last possible second and headed into the building to play pretend like the world was great.

One day, the universe spoke to me.  I have lots of conversations to the universe from my car.

Something said, "You're alive because you need to get dogs buckled up in certified seatbelts. You need to share Piper's story with the world and save lives."

You see, I had researched seatbelts for dogs and learned about a certification program by Center for Pet Safety. Only 4 (now 5) brands of dog car safety restraints have actually passed the crash testing.  Several have failed, and many don't meet quality standards to be tested.  Whoa.  Dog parents need to know.  I needed this info years ago. Why isn't there any conversation around this topic?

I'm telling you, this moment saved my life.  I remember the exact spot where I was driving when this thought hit me.  It gave me direction and something to look forward to.  To work towards.  It put meaning back into my daily life.

When people tell me, what a great thing it is that I've turned tragedy into something good, I never know what to say.

didn't do anything.  I was never intentional about it.  It was just the universe telling me what to do and I showed up for the ride.  Which by the way, I'm loving it.  It's my heart's mission, my passion and there's sooo much to be done.

Piper's Walk

Piper and I spent a lot of time outdoors.  I never had much money to spend, and valued being out and about much more than toys anyway.  Something we always did was go to dog events.  Something about the atmosphere, seeing all the dogs, vendors, and enjoying driving to new places, meeting new people, and jamming out to good music.  

So how was I going to spread awareness for dog seatbelt safety and get Piper's story out there?  Well through a dog festival of course!

I didn't know the first thing about holding a dog event, but I started reaching out to different organizations for advice.  I was blown away by the generosity and help I received.  Dog people are the BEST people.

I also wanted to raise money for Center for Pet Safety to do more crash testing. People needed to know if brands on the shelves could really withstand a crash test.  Again, I was incredible amazed at the kindness of pet parents and businesses who sponsored the event and donated to the cause.

Piper's Walk has been previously held in Olney, MD, but it's my dream to hold this event in various cities all down the East Coast for a summer tour!  I can't wait for the day dog moms and dads all over come out to support dog seatbelt safety and raise awareness with me.

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Along comes River...crazy pants.

#DogsRideCertified

You buckle up.  Why doesn't your pup?

That's a good question, right?  In 2020, Dogs Ride Certified officially became the name of my company. I started doing webinars and selling one of the certified brands online.  I want to become THE place to go for a certified seatbelt.

There are several other companies that sell certified seatbelts, but they also sell the stuff that hasn't passed crash testing or have failed crash testing. I don't understand this.  How can you support and sell a product that might not keep a dog safe in case of a crash?  Or a product that has FAILED the crash test?  I don't believe in it, and you'll NEVER see it here.

So I'm starting a movement.  #DogsRideCertified.  It's not enough to buckle up your dog in any old seatbelt.  It's got to be certified by the Center for Pet Safety.  

Someone once described my business as "a company with a heart."  I've treasured that statement every single day and it's true.  Dogs Ride Certified was build up upon love.  Love for my dog, but also yours.  Your love is the reason you buckle up your dog. And love will keep this movement going.

Dogs are family. They deserve safe, quality care.  And that's what I'm standing for.  Are you with me?

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I believe Piper sent her to me.

I never wanted another dog.  I was still very much grieving Piper's loss when River pranced into my life.  In Utah, at the Best Friend's Animal Society's Sanctuary, I found myself looking for peace and thought helping out as a volunteer could fill some sort of void and give me some answers.

I found myself in a puppy socialization class, and out comes running this little brown dog, feisty as can be.  I watched her tug on a wheelchair strap as it spun.  Ooh she was a lot of dog!  And for some reason, I started crying.

"You're gonna adopt her," someone said.

I immediately denied that comment.

On my last day at the sanctuary, I found myself wandering back to see this puppy, and couldn't stop myself as I filled out the adoption forms.  My mind said no, but my heart vetoed it. Then, I spent many hours at war with myself about the decision that was already made. I was afraid Piper would be mad at me.

I needed a sign that it was okay to bring home this dog, and I found it through the owner of the lodge I was staying at.  She told me it's a fact that we're going to outlive our dogs, no matter how they go. I had come here to heal, and maybe this is exactly it.  That Piper sent this dog into my life, so I could start to move on and let go of all the sadness. Yeah, Piper sent that message through her somehow.

So, I opened my door to a puppy who was everything I needed...in the most challenging way.

Training and enrichment brought the dog mom in me back to life.

River ended up being a complete nut.  She was super anxious about the world and over the top excited at the same time.  If we were going to live together, I had to step up my game.

Training required patience, consistency, and more positivity than I had been giving off those days.  This dog got a Chick-Fil-A kid's meals every week as the training food for Kindergarten class.  Nothing else could hold her attention.  She was a picky eater and I had to dig deep to get creative about what to use for training, my approach to training, and give her all the enrichment activities I could think of.  River is  

So, Doggie Recreation & Resources was created.

What's it got to do with dog seatbelt safety?

Well, to be real, not a whole lot.  But it's great fun!

And since I'm "living life to the fullest," and I think dogs should too, here it is.

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What's next:

Doggie Recreation & Resources is just a fun thing to do on the side, because seatbelt safety is so serious!  This dog mama needs to let out the goofy side over there.

 

But when I'm back to being the dog seatbelt lady, my brain is flooded with things to do for  community to keep dogs safe.  You're going to see:

  • A road trip around the US to meet new dogs and families, chatting with new people about dog seatbelt safety, and making new friends.

  • Developing certified harness seatbelts for giant breeds and tiny breeds.

  • Finding a way to safety secure service dogs in modified vehicles.

  • Working to get Center for Pet Safety's crash test standards to become THE standard to pass before products can enter the market.

  • Collecting data on dogs injured, lost or killed in car crashes.

  • Working to get laws made to require dogs to be buckled up in the car

I need your help!

About 6 million dogs are at risk to be lost, injured, or killed in car crashes every year.

Please join the Dogs Ride Certified movement and help get dogs buckled up in cars.

Buckle up your dog in a certified seatbelt, and then spread the word to everyone you know. Together we CAN change the pet industry. We CAN change they way dogs travel in cars. We CAN expect nothing less than Center for Pet Safety certified when shopping for a car safety restraint.

This is beyond me and Piper.  This is your movement too.  Let's make the world a safer place for our 4-legged best friends.

You can donate through love and support, and I'm crazy grateful to you for spreading the word!  If you're able to donate financially, funds will be used to get this movement out of park and into full drive. Education and research, here we come!

 

Thank you for your help!

Dogs Ride Certified gets dogs buckled up in Center for Pet Safety certified seatbelts so they can be safe in case of a car crash.

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