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Mini UK just announced that it will develop the world’s first “officially dog-friendly” automobile. The initiative, conducted in collaboration with British advocacy group Dogs Trust, is being promoted by a flashy cinema, digital, social media and radio campaign orchestrated by the Brooklyn Brothers advertising agency.

Mini isn’t the first car maker to go after the dog-lover market. In 2018, Range Rover began offering “pet packs to pamper dogs and leave them in the lap of luxury.” Honda is now giving canine enthusiasts a chance to buy " Honda Dog” accessories, everything from “paw stickers” to special seat belts and pet seats, all suitable for use in vehicles such as the Honda Odyssey. Ford offers dog boxes, ramps and seat covers.

Mini is the first, however, to promise to design dog-friendly vehicles from the ground up. I’m a dog lover but I must admit that the “drive” for dog-friendly automobiles is an interesting reflection of our values as a society. Climate crisis, pandemic, poverty, dog vehicular comfort. I mean, in 2020 there were 6,200 opioid-related deaths in Canada, and all that time all I could think was, “Yeah, but are dogs enjoying their car rides?”

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Far be it for me to lecture an era which delights in chastising all previous eras. Time will solve that problem. Besides, I have a much bigger issue with auto manufacturers designing dog-friendly cars. Actually, it’s more of a request.

Can harnesses really keep your pet safe in the car?

Are dogs safe being driven in cars with no air conditioning?

NOW DO CATS …

Forget being dog-friendly, how about designing a car that doesn’t make cats lose their minds? Dogs aren’t a big problem when it comes to driving. Dogs love cars. My dog is the only entity that likes driving more than I do. When those keys jingle (not technically, as keys don’t jingle anymore) the tail starts wagging. Dog plus car equals happiness (with or without paw stickers).

Cats not so much. Cats hate cars as much as they hate water. When we needed to take my childhood cat Pandora to the vet we had to roll her up in a blanket with just her head poking out. It looked like a large baguette with an angry feral cat head. If she somehow escaped we had to pull over while she hopped and scratched her away around the car’s interior.

Today there are cat carriers and websites that counsel owners how to calm felines for car travel. The site travelwithyourcat.com offers some theories as to why these pets are more automobile-adverse. Cats are territorial and dislike new environments. They have longer memories than dogs and associate car travel with bad destinations and experiences (see veterinarian). Cats are more wild and independent. Humans domesticated dogs, while cats chose to domesticate themselves. Their advice? Build good associations for your cat. But that’s a forlorn hope. You can soft-peddle and make nice and throw treats by the dozen; most cats will still go ballistic at the sight of an open automobile door. Given the chance between fighting a bear or going for a drive, Pandora would have taken the bear every time.

According to the online magazine Live Science, another factor in cat-car aversion is that today’s felines are thought to be descendent from “Felis silvestris lybica,” a small, Middle Eastern wildcat. This wildcat is a “solitary and highly territorial feline for whom daily routines – like marking territory and burying feces – are a matter of survival.” So the modern cat’s distaste of car rides represents a genetic abhorrence for breaking routine.

Maybe the answer is motorcycles. Maybe cats would find driving to the vet on the back of a Harley appeals to their independent streak. Cats like empty paper bags, drinking from faucets, giving dead rodents as Christmas gifts and ignoring you. They might like motorcycles.

Meanwhile, automotive manufacturers, you have been put on notice. The cat people are coming for you. They want cat-friendly cars and they want them meow.

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