Fourth of July and Your Pets: Not a Good Combination
Karen Dugan Holman B.S., B.S.E., M.S.
Growing up in rural Broken Arrow, Fourth of July celebrations were full of life lessons and lasting memories. I not only learned from my mother how to prepare a meal for fifty people with love and joy, my father also instilled in me the hard work and dedication necessary to accomplish anything worthwhile. But things can still go wrong, and animals and fireworks are not a good combination.
All year long, my cousins, sisters, and myself brainstormed to devise a plan to spend our “chore” money on the greatest fireworks spectacle imaginable. We invited family and friends, and worked hard to set up our house for the grand Fourth of July festivities. Most years, everything went smoothly, but there were always those “special” family memories that have to be placed in the family vault. There was the time, with bucket and hose in hand, we watched a bottle rocket incinerate a drought-ridden Loblolly Pine in the time it takes to say “poof.” None of us can forget watching in horror as a whistling chaser flew across the patio and up Aunt Edna’s leg, exploding with a very loud bang. It was truly amazing and quite humorous—until we realized she wasn’t laughing—and neither were our parents. Then there was Chips, our sweet English Setter, Chips.
Fourth of July is when I first experienced a well trained, mild-mannered dog completely destroy doors, woodwork, sheetrock, chain link fencing, and anything else that confined her from the fireworks. Chips—our dog at the time—loved to hunt, and she was steadfast in keeping both our pond and property free from water moccasins. She loved us sisters. We were a family. However, on the Fourth of July, she was terrified of fireworks despite being a trained hunting dog; certainly used to the sound of a shotgun. Indeed, on the Fourth of July, she became a terror on four legs when she heard the loud “Ka-Boom.” Chips began to pace and pant when guests filled our home for the Fourth, as though she knew the terror of the fireworks was soon to start. Perhaps she remembered the previous Fourth, when she escaped—despite not before grabbing an ignited firework in her mouth—injuring herself and scaring me speechless. After several failed attempts to confine her indoors, where she would be safe from injuring herself or property, Dad would drive her to our friends’ home, away from the relentless “Ka-Boom.” Needless to say, Chips became a bundle of stress despite her high degree of loyalty and field training. Her fear stuck with me, and provided one of the many sources of motivation for me to study animal behavior.
Animals do not enjoy fireworks. While humans may enjoy the “Ka-Boom” associated with the star-spangled fireworks show, your dog is not reciprocating in the splendor. Dogs can hear and smell far better than humans. Dogs have 125-375 million olfactory sensory cells, while humans have a mere 5-10 million. Dogs can hear 4 times further than humans and can detect higher pitched sounds. Additionally, dogs have a far superior ability to detect high frequency range sounds, something humans altogether lack. They have 18 specialized muscles in their ears which allows them to move in the direction of a sound. These specialized senses create a high sensitivity to both sounds and smells. Fireworks provide a great deal of noise and smells. Dogs attempt to tell us they are miserable, not enjoying the experience, but most humans don’t understand how they communicate.
Instead of taking your dog to visit friends and watch fireworks, here are some alternatives and tips to help keep your pet safe.
• Bring your pets inside and turn on a TV, fan, or music. Box fans provide a very nice humming noise to help soften the noise outside. Leave your pet in its favorite location and provide a bed, water, and favorite toys to keep them entertained. A KONG toy, stuffed with canned dog food and frozen can keep them occupied while you are away. Close window coverings to block your animal from watching fireworks or visitors.
• Do not take your dog with you to a firework event if possible. If you must take them, make sure they are leashed with a collar and ID tags. Do not leave them in your car, as the July temperatures cause temperatures to quickly reach life-threatening levels. Provide your dog plenty of water and shade. Do not let go of them.
• Microchip your dogs. Dogs frightened may run or try to escape, and often slip out of their collar. Microchips can be scanned at any vet or shelter, allowing you to locate your dog. If your dog gets lost, contact the BA Animal Shelter, put up lost dog signs and share pictures and information on social media. There are sites specifically for Broken Arrow lost dogs.
• Padlock yard gates. Visitors may accidentally leave the gate unlatched and your dog may escape without your knowledge.
• Clean up all remnants of fireworks and picnics. Many of the chemicals used in fireworks, trash and human food are toxic to animals.
• Know your pet. Each is different and possesses unique personalities and needs. There are medications that your veterinarian can provide if needed to keep your pet safe and more comfortable during this stressful event. There is no reason for your pet to suffer through anxiety on the fourth. Additionally, over the counter products can help calm your pets.
It is important to remember that even the calmest dogs do not enjoy fireworks. Dogs are not humans and it is best to protect them from this stressful situation.
As I brainstormed this piece, I had an epiphany. I have crossed some sort of life “bridge”. I am a Grandmother, an Aunt Edna of sorts, sharing my life stories in hopes that it teaches someone a new lesson. The truth is, I loved growing up in Broken Arrow. The family and friends that share my memories-many from the “pre-BA Expressway” era-are those that have embraced me throughout my life. We share a special bond; a love for Broken Arrow. That bond is the root of these articles. We have a personal responsibility to improve our community. The Broken Arrow Animal Shelter and our animal community need our help. Human help. The welfare of all Broken Arrow animals is a human issue, not an animal issue.
In closing, Fourth of July is an opportunity to gather with family and friends and to build lasting memories. Leave your pets safe at home to insure your memories are happy ones. Don’t forget to help control the animal population, spay and neuter your pets. Let’s empty our shelter and keep it that way!