Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On pet doors that mysteriously let small creatures leave the house

Okay, so the newest shocking development in parenting is the recent discovery that, against all logic, pet doors let small creatures leave the house (best headline from the Miami Herald: "Pet Doors Prove to be a Portal to Danger for Children.")
More than a hundred children have died or been seriously injured in the last decade after squeezing through tiny pet doors and getting into swimming pools or other dangerous places, new research has found.

"What we see is a picture that's emerging which shows that the pet door is a really serious hazard in a home that no one has really had on the radar screen," said Sean Kane, of Safety Research and Strategies.

Really? I mean, I'm not a parent, so I really can't speak from an informed perspective on the subject, but as a pet owner, I know that pet doors are specifically designed to let things in and out of the house. The ABC News piece goes so far as to include video of a dog exiting a pet door, as if to demonstrate that things get out of the house when a pet door is installed. In that respect, a pet door can be likened to a cracked door or a slightly open window, both of which create openings in the side of the house that let things get outside, and as with those openings, precautions should be taken to prevent kids from using them.

I'll grant you that children sometimes fit through spaces that one would not expect a child to fit through. The video also shows a child climbing through a small pet door no bigger than a sheet of paper. But if you consider that in the not-too-distant past, your child was able to wriggle out of your vagina, which is (I'm guessing) far smaller than a piece of paper, it shouldn't be a huge shock.

Now, I'm not trying to blame any of these parents for what sometimes happens. A child's death is always a tragedy, particularly when it's one of those things that doesn't have a single and distinct entity to blame. We have a tendency, when something like happens, to try to find someone to take the blame, even when such a person doesn't exist. In the case documented by ABC, the Ranfone family is suing the makers of their pet door for selling a product that... does when pet doors do and lets an animal out of the house.

More secure pet doors do exist. Many pet-door manufacturers do make safer pet doors using magnets and electronic sensors that are touted as safer for children. These tend to be more expensive, which the Ranfone's lawyer inexplicably describes as "talking out of both sides of your mouth." Apparently it's unethical to charge more for a pet door that is more complex and costs more to produce. It's also, one can suppose, unethical to identify such pet doors as more child-safe, indicating to concerned parents that those doors are more child-safe. And it's apparently unethical to offer pet owners like me, who don't have children, less expensive non-child-safe pet doors while marketing the more expensive child-safe doors to people who have kids.

Safety groups are launching a public-awareness campaign to inform parents of the dangers of pet doors and the possibility that children can wriggle through, and I think that's great. There is absolutely no harm in letting people know that they need to take certain heretofore unanticipated precautions to keep their children safe. But people also need to know that sometimes, things that are safer cost more. A car with side-curtain airbags generally costs more without. Flame-retardant pajamas cost more than the ones you buy in bulk for $5 for three from China. And, yeah, pet doors with little electronic devices are going to cost more than pet doors without. This is not the manufacturer trying to screw you over; this is the manufacturer selling a product at a price relative to the cost of production.

So to recap: Pet doors let things out, children are things, and your child's safety may have to be worth a little more money than you previously expected. And maybe keep an eye on your kid.

No comments: