Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays and I especially enjoy watching the fireworks with my family. Although this year I can’t help but worry a little as the holiday approaches. That’s because last year my dog, Lilly, suddenly developed an incredible fear of fireworks — a fear she had never before exhibited in her five years with my family.
Each time she heard a bang or a boom, Lilly wedged herself between the couch and the wall, whining and shaking. No matter how hard we tried to comfort her, she remained in a panic and the effect lasted for a while even after the fireworks display was over. It was heartbreaking.
I am not alone. There are many dog and cat parents out there whose beloved companion animals get extremely stressed and go into a frenzy at the sound of fireworks. Around the Fourth, shelters report an influx of pets who have gotten out of yards, slipped out of their collars on walks, or panicked while attending a fireworks display with their owners.
This is a traumatic time for wild animals and birds too. Earlier this year, authorities in the Galapagos Islands announced a ban on fireworks that were not silent. In 2015, a town in Italy issued a similar ban. Stateside, awareness of the impact on wildlife has increased, particularly after a 2010 incident where some 5,000 red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, common grackles and brown-headed cowbirds suffered blunt-force trauma after colliding with cars, trees and buildings in Arkansas following a New Year’s Eve fireworks display. When birds hear the loud boom, they panic and take off. Ray Brown of the Talkin’ Birds podcast was quoted by NPR as saying, “its nighttime, so they can’t really see where they’re going. So crashes result.”
Animals have far more acute hearing than humans do, and it is not surprising that they react fearfully to the sounds of fireworks, which are especially loud and therefore terrifying to their sensitive ears.
That’s why one of the best things you can do to protect your animals this Fourth is to keep them indoors and your windows closed.
Another way to reduce your pet’s anxiety this holiday is to create a safe place for your dog or cat to retreat to in the home. In Lilly’s case, her safe place is behind the couch, so we’ll be making sure she has access to that area. It’s also important to stay calm so you don’t reinforce fearful behavior among your pets. They’re looking to us for cues, and by reassuring them when frightened, it can be interpreted as a reward for the behavior.
Distracting your pets before they panic can also help, so if your dog or cat has a favorite family indoor activity (ours is howling together), encourage her to engage in it and distract her from behaving fearfully.
Make sure to plan ahead and time their bathroom breaks for times when you don’t think the noise from fireworks will be as bad, such as before it gets dark.
Reading to or singing to your dog could help too. Those without pets can help animals at the local animal shelter stay calm during the fireworks. Last year a shelter in Maricopa County, Arizona, solicited help from the public to read and sing to dogs at their two shelter locations to help keep them calm on the Fourth, and more than 200 volunteers showed up. “There were dogs literally falling asleep with their faces pressed up against the hands of the people [next to] the kennel,” public information officer Jose Santiago told our Animal Sheltering magazine. We’ve heard from numerous shelters this year that are doing the same thing, so check with your local shelter or rescue to see if you can help.
As for Lilly, we’ll be putting on some music at our home tomorrow to take the edge off the sound of the fireworks, most likely the song “Who let the dogs out” by Anslem Douglas.
Independence Day is a time to enjoy yourself with family and friends. But make sure private fireworks displays are not part of the celebration. Companion animals are family, and they deserve to be treated with care and consideration at what can be an immensely stressful time for them. Make this Fourth of July a safe and worry-free one, both for yourself and for your beloved animal.