And the rockets red glare…

And the rockets red glare...
And the rockets red glare…

This weekend we celebrate America’s independence.  July 4th and I have a complicated relationship. As a naturalized citizen, I love being able to celebrate and share in all the wondrous aspects of being an American. But I admit, I mostly hate July 4th because of the fireworks.  They’re loud, smell badly, hurt untold numbers of people, can damage property and send dogs into sheer panic. Having been hit by a bottle rocket as a kid and attended an event supervised by a fire department that went dangerously awry as an adult, you can probably guess where I fall at on topic of fireworks and the 4th of July.  I’m with the dogs. I’ve spent countless hours trying to sooth wigged out pets over the years and it breaks my heart to see them so traumatized.

Most communities have professional events where they set off amazing displays to which I say go if you need a sparkly light show that goes boom!  In the city of Denver, fireworks are illegal for homeowners to shoot off, fire danger and safety being the primary reasons. All of the metro area municipalities have displays at various baseball/soccer stadiums, concerts and other venues which you’d think would be enough for celebratory patriots. But that never seems to stop loads of ignorant and clueless people who merely drive to the suburbs where they can buy bags of fireworks and return home to set them off…for days in advance and days following the holiday. I first heard them this past weekend. “Uh oh,” I thought, “here we go again.” 🙁

In our ‘hood there is a kind of digital bulletin board (an online neighborhood watch if you will) where people can post pretty much anything. The police department likes it because it engages neighbors to be aware of people and things and neighbors like it because they can share service recommendations, get information about local happenings, etc. Lately it’s been dominated by the number of ‘lost/found dog’ postings. Some of those were dogs were spooked by thunder, but a lot of them were due to illegal fireworks.

I’m very fortunate that Sam is pretty non-plused by fireworks. True to his nature, he stays calm or as calm as Sam can stay since he’s pretty much a pogo stick of a dog, bouncing up and down with joy over the simplest of things in life.  He only gets stressed whenever the vacuum comes out, always keeping an ever watchful eye on the dreaded ‘corded Dragon’ making a racket he simply cannot understand. My last dog however was so terrified by fireworks I used to think Finn was going to stroke out before we made it through the fireworks season. A friend of mine who used to live in the neighborhood has a couple of Boxers who also freak out whenever there are fireworks. We have commiserated and groused for years about the neighborhood clowns who shoot them off at all times of the day and night despite high temperatures and fire danger or the city ordinance banning them. The worst part has been we’ve been powerless to do anything about it or make things better for our pets.

So what can you do to ease a pet’s fears about fireworks? Behavioral strategies can include advance desensitization to the sound of fireworks through countless CDs or apps or distraction with high value treats and toys, though in both Finn’s and my friend’s Boxers’ cases, neither options were ever successful. Their only coping was through extreme pacing, whining, drooling, and hiding. Other advice suggests (a) using Adaptil, a chemical compound that resembles a calming pheromone found in the milk of mother dogs that can be diffused in a room or on a collar; (b) L-Theanine, an amino acid that may calm a dog neurologically; (c) the popular “Thundershirt” which fits snuggly around a dog (a-la burrito style) to help alleviate anxiety related issues; or (d) use of a pharmaceutical medication (but not a sedative which would only induce drowsiness and not change the feeling of intense fear). It should be administered before fireworks begin and then employ the other behavioral strategies.

Because July 4th is on a Friday this year, it makes for a nice long 3-day weekend. Woo-hoo!  What better time to host a summer party with friends and family? And what 4th of July party isn’t complete without the requisite red, white and blue bunting or flags, burgers/brats on the grill, noshing of baked beans and chips, and homemade ice cream all washed down with some beer or wine? It’s probably the alcohol on the menu that contributes to the setting off of fireworks in my neighborhood but hey, what do I know about these things?

So this 4th of July, be especially aware of how setting off fireworks can affect pets. I say be patriotic…fire up that BBQ grill and have a cold one but please don’t set off fireworks in neighborhoods, especially where it’s banned. The fur babies will be happier and everyone will be safer, too.

There, I’m climbing off my soapbox now. 🙂 Wishing you and yours a safe and happy 4th. <3