Earlier this summer, an official from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals created a bit of a controversy when he said New Jersey law requires that pets be restrained when transported in cars.

Pet owners - probably some dogs, too - howled in protest. As any dog owner knows, dogs really like cruising down the road with their heads poking out of open windows.

As it turns out, the SPCA official was wrong about New Jersey law. The statute in question - N.J.S.A. 4:22-18 - says anyone who carries an animal in "a cruel or inhumane manner" is guilty of a disorderly persons offense. But the statute does not say that transporting an unrestrained pet is cruel and inhumane. And, in fact, the president of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association quickly issued a statement saying "it is quite a stretch to equate driving a dog to the groomer or veterinarian in the back seat of a car as 'cruel.'"

The SPCA has since backed away from its initial statement and said it does not consider transporting an unrestrained dog or cat in a car to be animal cruelty. You would think that would be the end of this dispute. But alas, New Jersey lawmakers, apparently having fixed all the state's major problems, won't let this sleeping dog lie.

Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, D-Essex, is sponsoring what would essentially be a seat-belt law for pets. Under the measure, anyone transporting an unrestrained dog or cat in a car would be subject to a $20 fine and could be convicted of animal cruelty, which carries a fine of $250 to $1,000.

If the bill were to be enacted, New Jersey would be the only state in the nation with such a law.

Meanwhile, Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber, of Essex County, has introduced a measure clarifying that transporting an unrestrained pet is not "cruel and inhumane."

Frankly, New Jersey doesn't need either law. This whole controversy was started by an SPCA official who misspoke. There is no issue - not an issue that needs to be addressed by a new law, anyway.

Please understand: The question of whether it's a good idea to drive around with an unrestrained dog in the car and the question of whether there ought to be a law against it are two entirely different ... animals (sorry).

Letting a dog ride unrestrained in the back of a pickup truck - or on a motorcycle's gas tank (this apparently happens) - does seem dangerous and unwise. But people know their pets and generally are not out to harm them. If you think your dog is safe and comfortable riding unrestrained in the back of a car, Trenton has no business telling you otherwise.