The Fourth of July is no picnic for dogs and cats. A third more than normal will likely end up in shelters on July 5, after fireworks make them panic and bolt.
"Dogs and cats can hear better than we can. Fireworks are loud to us, so they are even louder to them. The loud noises, the bright lights and the smell of sulfur can create a lot of anxiety, and make them try to run away," said Shon Hardy, field operations manager for the Salt Lake County Animal Shelter.
He has numbers to back that statement.
In most normal five-day stretches during the summer last year, his shelter would pick up about 66 stray cats and 70 stray dogs. But he said that in the five days surrounding July 4, it picked up 90 cats and 95 dogs or 36 percent more than normal. "We always see big increases around July Fourth, and the same thing happens again around the 24th," he said, adding that other cities in the county and state report the same. "Many are hit by cars and come to us injured."
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, says actually it is the lucky few lost pets that are turned into shelters and reunited with owners after running away during fireworks.
"When they finally stop running, they're so far from home and so confused they can't find their way back," he said. "The lucky ones get turned in to shelters and are eventually reunited with their people. But others never do make it. So much grief and trouble could easily be avoided just by thinking ahead a little bit."
Hardy says animal services officers often find that panic by some animals is so extreme that they jump fences they never could before, or poke holes in fences to escape.
"That is especially common with the grape-stake kind of fence. It seems secure, but nails get weak. If there is a broken slat, they try to push through it where they wouldn't normally" when scared. "I've seen a lot of them squeeze through, which is why I suggest keeping pets inside that day," he said.
Doug Poindexter, president of the World Wide Pet Industry Association, said, "There are number of tips we have to try and help minimize stress by pets. First, bring your pets inside. Keep them in a room that is as sound resistant as possible" and then play music or the television there to drown out noise from fireworks.
He added, "Make sure they have their favorite comfort items there like toys and blankets especially if you are going to leave them alone because you are going to a July Fourth party."
As fireworks pop off, he suggests distracting pets to help keep them calm. "With my dog, I play catch with her favorite toy, or we play tug of war."
He said if owners have seen that their pets in previous years have extreme stress from fireworks, he suggests they talk with a veterinarian about obtaining a tranquilizer. "They need to do that through a vet so they have the proper dose for the size and type of pet, rather than trying to guess on their own."
Poindexter also notes many pets will have "accidents" and go to the bathroom in the house because of anxiety. "So prepare a bit, and be understanding. For example, we keep our dog in a room with a linoleum floor so it is easy to clean up, instead of on the expensive carpet in the living room."
He also adds, "Don't take your dog to a fireworks show. I'm surprised to see some people always do that. But if fireworks can cause stress at home, miles away from a show, it is that much worse when you are right there."
Hardy, Poindexter and Baierschmidt all recommend having proper identification tags and microchips on pets in case they do escape, so they can be retrieved if found."Microchips are especially important," Hardy said, saying sometimes tags are lost when a pet runs away. "People can obtain them from their vet, or from a humane society."