A recent study conducted by pet-safety organization Paws to Click determined if a dog weighing 75 pounds was in a vehicle travelling 40 km/h and said vehicle was involved in a mishap, the dog would exert in the neighbourhood of 2,250 pounds of force on whatever it came into contact with, be it a driver, passenger or windshield.

A recent study conducted by pet-safety organization Paws to Click determined if a dog weighing 75 pounds was in a vehicle travelling 40 km/h and said vehicle was involved in a mishap, the dog would exert in the neighbourhood of 2,250 pounds of force on whatever it came into contact with, be it a driver, passenger or windshield.

Gordon Templeton, the 33-year-old founder of Optimus Gear Co., a Winnipeg business specializing in safety gear for your furry friend, arrived at the same conclusion seven years ago, not long after he adopted Nala, a 70-pound chocolate Labrador. The truck he owned at the time didn’t have a backseat. One day it dawned on him that permitting an animal the size of Nala to sit next to him unrestrained probably wasn’t the best idea in the world.

Nala models the Optimus Gear Co. harness. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Nala models the Optimus Gear Co. harness. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

"There weren’t any what I’d call close calls, but there were definitely a few times when I had to slam on the brakes suddenly and she went skidding toward the dash," he says, seated in the backyard of the Fort Richmond home he shares with his wife Dana and their two-year-old daughter Naomi.

Curious, Templeton, a mechanical engineer, went online, entering "dog seatbelts" in a search engine. He turned up a number of products billed as "crash-tested." It wasn’t until he’d dug a little deeper that he learned the descriptions would have been more accurate if they had read, "crash-tested… and failed."

"Around the same time I saw a news report on (CBC news program) Marketplace that indicated there were no industry standards for that type of thing," he continues, scratching Nala behind the ears. "That’s when I started to think this was something that was obviously needed. So, being an engineer, I decided to put on my thinking cap and devise something for dogs that offered more protection than anything else on the market already."

The Optimus Gear Co. dog restraint system features custom-created aluminum buckles that work with seatbelts to keep you and your canine companion safe on the road. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

The Optimus Gear Co. dog restraint system features custom-created aluminum buckles that work with seatbelts to keep you and your canine companion safe on the road. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

It took close to six years of research and development — that included a weeklong, 2019 trip to Virginia, where his prototypes were successfully tested on a canine version of a crash test dummy — but in May Templeton unveiled his "defender harness," a versatile, lightweight product that fits onto a dog’s torso and works with the existing seatbelts and shoulder straps in your vehicle to offer your pooch not just a comfy ride but a safe one, to boot. How safe? The aluminum buckles, which he designed himself, are rated to withstand 3,000 pounds of pressure.

Templeton’s harnesses, made of a nylon-polyester blend, come in three sizes — small, medium and large. Whistling for Nala to follow — it might be a tough ask as steak sandwiches are on the menu inside — he leads her to his vehicle, parked in the front driveway. Summoning Nala, the star of numerous, how-to videos on the Optimus Gear website (optimusgear.com), to jump into the backseat, he demonstrates how he’s able to secure her in a matter of seconds; also, how she can still lie down, sit up or look out the window, without any discomfort.

What’s more, particularly in regard to dogs that are prone to leaping out of a car or truck the moment the door swings open, his patented design enables a dog owner to have full control of their pet at all times, thanks to a trio of well-positioned connector rings on the harness that attach directly to a leash while the dog is still strapped in. Again using Nala as his guinea pig, he points out a D-ring on the harness’s underside, suitable for strolling, and two more on the back that can be employed if your dog is the sort, like his, that enjoys pulling a sled or wagon.

Two of the three different sizes of Optimus Gear Co. harness systems available for your furry friends. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Two of the three different sizes of Optimus Gear Co. harness systems available for your furry friends. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Templeton acknowledges some may view his harness as a "luxury product." While you can purchase components separately, the full ensemble, which comes with an adjustable harness, vehicle tethers, leash and washable storage bag, retails for just under $270.

"I have heard from a few… I’ll call them old-schoolers, who think strapping a dog into a car is ridiculous, that it’s overkill. To them I say how much did you pay for your dog in the first place, or what’s an average vet bill these days? More importantly, how horrible would it be if you were involved in an accident and not just your pet, but one of your loved ones was seriously injured because the dog crashed into them? Most people I’ve talked to think what I charge is a small price to pay for peace of mind."

He smiles when asked whether the harnesses, manufactured entirely in Manitoba, sell themselves; for example, has he ever been idling at a red light and a pet owner in another lane gestured as if to say, "Hey, what’s up with that?"

"It’s actually quite unassuming, and you probably wouldn’t even know what you were looking at unless you studied it further," he says. "A bigger thing is when we go to the dog park, and I’m taking Nala out of the car in the parking lot. People who see us going from travel-mode to walk-mode in a split second are all, ‘Cool, where can I get one?’ Of course, I’m only too happy to let them know."

david.sanderson@freepress.mb.ca

David Sanderson

Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.

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