It may sound surprising, but most people do not put together that a three-year-old child can fit through a doggie door. But, the fact is, they can. And when they do, they are exposed to all sorts of dangers outside, including pools, streets, cars and strangers.
The size of the opening can seem deceptively small, especially in pet doors intended for smaller pets. A size “medium” pet door opening is approx. 8 x 10 inches, which is just smaller than a standard sheet of paper. These doors are recommended by manufacturers for use with pets up to 40 pounds. A 95th percentile, three-year-old male child weighs only 38 pounds, and it’s been shown a child of this size can easily pass through this opening and into danger.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death of children between ages 1 and 4, and it is the most widely reported danger associated with children exiting pet doors. In 2009, 485 Florida residents drowned; children ages 1-4 made up 13% of the deaths and 43% of the hospitalizations. Nationwide, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nearly 300 children younger than five drown in swimming pools and spas each year; and more than 3,000 that age go to hospital emergency rooms due to near-drownings.
While the risk to young children of accidental drowning has long been known and researched, the fact is that much of the local, state and national reporting has not focused on “how”’ such children gained access to the pool in the first place. Only because of litigation involving child drowning and near-drowning cases, filed after children exited their homes through a doggie door, was the data gathered that revealed the extreme risk that the use of these products create. Additionally, such claims have fueled change, and have resulted in new warning labels being placed on pet door packaging to make parents and users of these products aware of this potential danger.
It certainly was not easy for the families who have suffered through these tragedies to pursue justice through the court system, but, their efforts have made the world safer. Their lawsuits brought this issue to light, and the warnings now being used by manufacturers will certainly help to boost awareness of this home safety hazard and prevent future tragedies. In addition, this danger is now being prominently highlighted in various public awareness campaigns about pool safety, and, that is certainly a big step in the right direction.