More chases, crashes, and crazy mix-ups than you can shake a tail at

This column published as "Doggone Wild" in May/June 2020 issue

David Matthews / May 13, 2020
David Matthews

The sight of large cattle chasing pedestrians down the street is barely enough to make residents of Spain look up from their gazpacho.

But this past March when a lion came sauntering down a street in the small town of Molina de Segura, the policía were besieged with calls. 

Officers arrived on the scene and managed to corral the big cat, but when they scanned it for a microchip, they discovered it was actually a big dog.

The confusion likely had something to do with the pooch’s haircut, which was trimmed to look like it had a large, bushy mane and a puffed tail, just like a lion. 

The officers were able to reunite the dog with its owner, but still aren’t clear on the reason behind the dog’s ‘do. 

Hutton’s hero

Five years ago, a taxi driver in New Zealand found a confused fluffy animal on the road. It was too small to be a lion, but cabbie Toni Painting wasn’t sure what it was.

When she took it to a vet, she learned that it was an endangered seabird called a Hutton’s shearwater.

Even stranger than the bird’s name are its breeding habits. The Hutton’s shearwater is the only seabird in the world that nests and raises its young in the mountains, at heights of around 4,000 ft. 

This creates a problem when the chicks embark on their first journey out of the nest. On foggy, moonless nights, they sometimes mistake the shiny road surface for the ocean and crash-land, after which they are unable to walk, move, or avoid oncoming traffic. 

Painting now leads a volunteer army that patrols for “crash-landers” during fledgling season, which runs through March and April.

“I go out half an hour after dark,” Painting told The Guardian. “Then I go out every hour until half past midnight. If there’s a lot of birds coming down I can go all night. If I have passengers they’ll help me too.”

On an average night, Painting and her team rescue 10 to 20 injured birds and deliver them to a rehabilitation center, which takes them out to sea once they’ve healed up.

Teacher’s pet

Police in Seattle, Washington, were forced to scramble in March when an ill-advised driving lesson nearly went horribly wrong.

It all began when police received several calls about a sedan “driving erratically” on I-5. Officers spotted the car after it crashed into multiple vehicles in excess of 100 mph, and the chase was on.

Officers eventually caught up with the 1996 Buick and were shocked to see a pit bull behind the wheel with a man steering and pushing the gas pedal from the passenger side.

The chase ended after police deployed spike strips and stopped the car before anyone got hurt.

As he was being arrested, the man explained that he was just trying to teach his dog to drive.

“I wish I could make this up,” Washington state trooper Heather Axtman told CNN. “I’ve been a trooper for almost 12 years, and wow, I’ve never heard this excuse.”

Pet project

While most of us don’t let our pets drive our car, new research from Volvo and The Harris Poll found that pets can still be dangerous passengers.

The study followed 15 drivers and their dogs for more than 30 hours on the road.

The findings showed that 70% of drivers allow their pets to ride unrestrained in their vehicles, often in the front seat, which results in double the amount of unsafe driving behaviors and driver distraction. 

Stress also increases, raising heart rates of both drivers and their pets by as much as 34 beats per minute.

(Interestingly, despite the additional aggravation and danger, the study also found that nearly 40% of drivers would still prefer to go on a weekend getaway with their dog instead of their family, and 28% would choose their dog over their significant other.)

In order to enjoy your getaway while also keeping you and your pet safe, experts recommend:

  • Never drive with your pet unrestrained.
  • Never allow your pet to lean out of a car window.
  • Never try to teach your dog to drive on the interstate.

About the Author

Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.

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