Inspiration for the center and its inaugural test came nearly a decade ago.
Wolko's dog, Maggie, was seriously injured when Wolko braked to avoid a traffic collision. Despite a restraint, the English cocker spaniel smashed into the back of the driver's seat, spraining her spine and hip and getting her back legs tangled in the harness.
Once Maggie recovered, Wolko, an automotive engineer, started performing safety tests on her pet and other dogs. She sold products she liked on her for-profit website, caninecommuter.com.
Often, however, she found the safety equipment, toys and cleaning products were mostly untested and either failed to work as promised or fell apart.
"Because of the lack of oversight and the lack of testing in the industry — it is quite the 'Wild West' out there — you are consistently putting consumers and their dogs at risk," Wolko said.
Just as the popularity of pet products boomed, Wolko split with sales. She got her nonprofit credentials, officially opened the safety center in July 2011, met with engineers and started building a bulldog dummy.
The 55-pound bulldog is anatomically correct, stuffed with computer equipment and has the same center of gravity as the real animal. That model was used in the pilot project reviewing four products.
MGA Resource Corp., an independent lab in Manassas, Va., conducted all the crash tests using Wolko's dog dummies.
When the pilot results were released, Subaru of America Inc. signed on to fund the rest of the study.
The final tests included a 75-pound golden retriever, 45-pound border collie and a 25-pound terrier mix.
The Sleepypod Clickit Utility Harness was the only one out of seven that protected all the dummies in 30 mph crashes.
"This was the only brand that consistently kept the dog on the seat for every test. It prevented the launch of the dogs and prevented side-to-side and fore-and-aft rotation of the dog and helped keep the spine fairly stable," Wolko said.
The rest had hardware problems, construction issues, connection point failures, the stitching broke or there was catastrophic failure and the dog flew off the seat or out of the harness, she said.
Representatives from all the product manufacturers were invited to attend the testing, and four showed up, she said.
Consumer Reports magazine published the center's results.