During the night of the Riverbend fireworks last month, a neighbor of local dog advocate Karen Roach was out walking his dog on Manufactures Road.
Roach said her neighbor usually walked his dog, Blackie, at night along the river when the temperatures are cooler, and was not the kind of person who would be aware of the scheduled fireworks.
“He was just walking down the sidewalk and wasn’t near the crowds at all,” she said.
When the fireworks show began, Blackie became terrified and pulled away from his owner’s grip, running into traffic with his collar and leash still on, and was killed by an oncoming car.
This cautionary tale is more typical than anyone might like to believe. Fireworks are great fun for people, but for most dogs like Blackie they are a frightening experience. A dog will do anything to get away from what it fears, and in an effort to find safety, will run straight toward more dangerous conditions, like busy intersections.
More pets are lost and killed during the Fourth of July weekend than any other time of the year, according to local experts and national statistics.
“Each year we staff up pretty heavily. We always expect to see a lot of emergencies on the 4th,” Dr. Sally Gregg, medical director of the Regional Institute for Veterinary Emergencies and Referrals, said.
The McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center nearly doubled the number of pets they took in over a two day period last year during the July 4th weekend, according to the center’s executive director, Karen Walsh.
“Our intake and our calls increase dramatically. We get more calls from folks who spot strays in the road, running in panic and winding up lost, then here,” Walsh said.
While some breeds, like hunting dogs, are fine with loud noises associated with positive reinforcement and excitement (like guns), most are not.
“Temperament is breed-based. Only the owner really knows their dog,” Dr. Katherine Primm with Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, said.
Primm and Walsh agree that if your dog is afraid of thunder storms, then that fear will increase during a fireworks show. If you already know your dog’s stress level around fireworks, there are several things the two professionals suggest to aid in your pet’s comfort, whether you are home or not.
1. Never leave a dog outside during the fire works, whether they are random block party bottle rockets or a community sponsored event. Most likely your dog will do everything it can to get away from the loud noise and try to escape. This is where it can run into trouble, become lost, or worse.
2. If you are leaving your dog alone in the house while you and your family attend the fire works, make sure you leave it a safe option. Make sure your dog has access to it’s crate, if it has one, or a quiet interior room where it can confine itself. If you have a place where you know the dog will not destroy the room or hurt itself, confine the dog in this area before you leave. Walsh said dog owners can also consider a new product she discovered at an animal welfare conference earlier this year, a tight-fitting shirt that gives “gentle, constant pressure” that calms the dog by creating feelings of enclosed security.
3. Leave the stereo on and play classical or another type of soothing music so the dog can not hear the fireworks. Walsh also suggests a CD that has worked in McKamey’s puppy area which is made just for anxious dogs. Designed for relaxation, the CD is filled with specially recorded sounds for dogs with anxiety. Leaving the television on is also a simple trick.
4. Do not comfort your fearful pet with affection and coddling. Primm says this only reinforces the anxious behavior, since the dog thinks it is receiving your praise for being afraid. This cycle can escalate your dog’s condition. Instead, Primm suggests distracting the dog that comes to you when scared by giving it something to do where it knows it will be praised. Something as simple as commanding your already trained dog to simply sit can do the trick. Reward the desired behavior so the dog does not get confused.
5. If you know there will be fireworks near your home, try to make sure your dog is good an tired before they begin. Go for a long walk and play time during the day and make sure your dog stays active so it will be more likely to sleep through the noise.
6. With the suggestion of a vet, try pharmaceuticals to calm your animal.
7. At the very least, make sure your pet’s collar and identification are on just in case they get away. If your pet winds up lost or in the emergency room, this is the best way to make sure you will be notified and your dog will find its way back to you.