Growing up, my boyhood dog Bobo would bark his throat raw during the fireworks season, at times even frothing at the mouth.
As a kid, I didn’t understand that he was under a huge amount of stress during the nation’s four-day celebration of its independence, that the booms of those exploding bottle rockets and siren missiles were hurting his ears, the smells of black powder and sulfur overcoming his senses. And this was years before the big mortar cannons became all the rage.
Years later, my dad and I speculated that a stray bottle rocket must have detonated near him or right on top of him — not enough to harm him physically but certainly enough to terrify him. Always protective of his human pack, Bobo would turn it up a notch or two in early July, lunging at sputtering, smoking fireworks, hoping to tear them apart in his jaws. It’s why I was forced to shove him inside our garage with the door shut so I could continue to celebrate America’s birthday without him swallowing one of my smoke bombs.
Even as I write this, I feel guilty for doing that to him all those years ago. So much so that today I go way out of my way to ensure July Fourth celebrations minimally intrude on my nervous nelly of a dog, Odie. I even go as far as turning on a box fan in whatever room he’s in to help muffle the sounds of the detonating ordinance outdoors.
Odie is scared of everything. It’s just his nature. Amusingly, any little noise will cause him to bolt for the safety of an upstairs bedroom. Sneezes absolutely terrify him. When one of us coughs, he high-tails it out of the room. Heck, one time Katy opened a refrigerator door, and that was enough to cause him to burn rubber.
But we’re lucky that Odie is an indoor dog. For outdoor dogs, like my Bobo, it’s hard to shy away from the chaotic celebrations taking place above their heads.
Which is why more dogs and cats go missing every year on July Fourth than at any other day of the year, said Carthage Humane Society’s Amber Gilmore.
“Last year, in June, the total number of intakes was 23 dogs and 28 cats,” she said. One month later? “Those numbers doubled ... 45 dogs and 52 cats.”
According to Nationwide, the nation’s largest provider of health insurance, some common Fourth of July-related dog injuries can cost hundreds of dollars to treat, including firework burns (average vet bill is $175); heat stroke ($557); lacerations from dogs shattering glass doors, windows or wooden doors in their desire to escape the sounds of exploding fireworks ($346); or panicking, running out into the road and getting hit by a vehicle ($401).
Last week, in anticipation of the July Fourth activities, Joplin Humane Society officials held a clinic to get residents’ four-legged loved ones’ microchipped so they could more easily be identified if they do escape their homes or backyards. It’s affordable, and it does both you and your dog a huge favor should the worst-case scenario happen.
“Animals have more sensitive hearing then people do, so noises that are loud to us are increased for (our) small pets,” Gilmore said. “The noise becomes too loud and overwhelming, (and) they are unsure of what is happening. That causes the stress.”
So what should homeowners do for their pets? Well, the microchip clinic by JHS was a wonderful idea. As far as physical comfort is concerned, a safe room inside the house, usually in the center of the house, is a great start. Make sure the room has a nice, comfortable bed and blanket nearby. For exercise, take them out earlier in the day, when firework activity isn’t so hot and heavy; also, bump up their potty breaks so they can be inside the room during the evening and at dusk, when the fireworks usually reach a crescendo, particularly during the Fourth. Toys and bones inside their safe room also keeps them busy and preoccupied.
Taking your dog to a kennel may be a viable option. As may be transporting him for a day or two to a friend who is willing to baby-sit your pet and who lives far away from a noisy neighborhood or loud public fireworks display. There are also vet-prescribed medications to help calm them during the afternoons and evenings and so-called “thunder shirts” for them should the need for such usage arise.
And if your dog or cat does end up missing? Don’t panic. Always call your local shelter or check out their pages on Facebook. All of our shelters do an absolutely wonderful job displaying pictures of stray dogs and cats that have come into their possession — they are held in a special area for their owners to come and get them.
Here are some other recommendations:
• Make sure they have plenty of water. Panicked panting can make dogs quite thirsty.
• All pets, even those kept indoors full-time, should always wear collars with ID tags.
• Never use fireworks around pets. Aside from potential burns and mental trauma, even unused fireworks can pose a danger. Many types contain potentially toxic substances, including potassium nitrate, arsenic and other heavy metals.
• If you do have a rare dog who isn’t spooked by fireworks, you still have to take additional precautions against both the heat and food leftovers, which are common during Fourth of July celebrations. Dogs can be easily susceptible to heat stroke, so make sure they have plenty of shade or access to an air-conditioned room. (If you own a dog and provide neither, you should not own a dog). Also, dogs can get sick and even die by eating chocolate or sharp-edged chips or by drinking alcoholic beverages. If the latter is ingested, a dog or cat could easily slip into a coma and die. Be smart.
• It’s one of those no-brainer, commonsense things, but never lather on sunscreen or spray insect repellent on your pet unless it’s specifically designed for him. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems.
Address correspondence to Kevin McClintock, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.