Published on June 27, 2013
Louie the beagle is one of many dogs apt to panic throughout fireworks season.
— Submitted photo by owner Lisa Janes
Published on June 27, 2013
Veterinarian Heather Hiller of the St. John’s Animal Care and Adoption Centre sits with Scamp. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Panicked pets likely to bolt during July 1 celebrations, vet says
As Canada Day approaches, many people are gearing up to set their own fireworks off to celebrate the holiday, while others such as dog owners Lisa Janes and Lynette Collins are preparing to help their panicky dogs weather the storm.
According to Dr. Heather Hillier, veterinarian for the City of St. John’s Humane Services, it is common for dogs to panic at the sound of fireworks.
“We actually kind of prepare ourselves. We’ll get a large number of stray animals and loss reports come Tuesday for animals that got spooked with the fireworks and happened to be outside at the time,” Hillier said.
Harder to predict
“We don’t like New Year’s or Canada Day. And of course now, with fireworks being so readily available, what we’re seeing is that even though people are prepared for the evening, if somebody has small kids they’re setting them off at supper time, before the kids go to bed. There’s a lot less predictability as to when and for how long (the blasts will take place), because a lot of people take the whole weekend setting off fireworks and that sort of thing. So the poor dogs don’t have a prayer.”
Lisa Janes, a dog owner living just outside St. John’s, worries about her beagle Louie during prime fireworks times.
“Last New Year’s, for example, I was out picking up my daughters, my husband was home,” Janes said.
“Fireworks went off. My beagle got under my shed in the backyard. You know, he was out to pee, and it took me hours to find him. He knows my voice, and I was out there calling for him, but he would not come out. We had to physically dig a hole and crawl under the shed to see if he was in there — and he was — and grab hold of him to haul him in. If we never had to look under the shed, he wouldn’t have come out. And that’s not him. It’s only for fireworks that he becomes that withdrawn and traumatized that he’ll hide and not respond to anybody.”
Hillier explained that when families know their dog will react strongly to the loud noises, they will often prepare by walking their pet during the day so they can keep them inside in the evening.
Hillier also suggested that owners of skittish dogs could give them more exercise than usual to tire them out. Owners could also keep dogs in a well-insulated room during the explosions, play white noise or even loud music, and stay with them — though she advised that dog owners should appear calm and relaxed so that the dogs do not feed off of their nervous state. She even suggested trying distractions, such as play or food.
“In dogs that really get upset, the ones that are really damaging themselves as a result, those pet owners should speak to their veterinarians,” Hillier said.
Medication available for dogs
“There are some anti-anxiety medications that can be started up beforehand so the dog is a bit more relaxed. With fireworks, we know this weekend will be a bad weekend, so as long as the dog is healthy otherwise we could certainly start out a medication Saturday so that it’s in their system and they’re already relaxed when the fireworks start.”
Of all dog-owning households in St. John’s — Humane Services estimates there are between 9,000 and 10,000 — a significant number have dogs that don’t like fireworks, while some have canines with reactions that are quite extreme.
“Some dogs will really kind of traumatize themselves trying to get away,” Hillier said.
“So if they’re in the house, we’ll see animals that will try to eat baseboards or try to get through a door, will scratch at the floor trying to get out of a room. Or they’ll jump a fence or jump off the patio, things they wouldn’t normally do. But their instinct is to get away from the sharp noise, so sometimes they’ll actually hurt themselves in the process.”
While this canine spook reaction is not new, its frequency in recent years has risen with the increasing use of fireworks.
“In the last two years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the usage of fireworks,” St. John’s Regional Fire Department Insp. Gary Power said.
Power said the increased use of fireworks prompted complaints from residents to the City of
St. John’s. In response, the regional fire department put a new educational program in place requiring vendors to go through a certain training program, and to help educate their customers on fireworks safety. This program was in effect in time for the 2013 New Year celebrations, and seems to have improved safety levels.
Unfortunately, all the safety education in the world won’t save dog owners from increased stress levels, or help them to better predict when the explosions will go off.
“I would like one day, one time, one night,” Janes said.
“At least I’ll expect it and I can make arrangements for whatever I have to do, you know, bar the bedroom and sit with him all night long if I’ve got to. The fact of it going off whenever — I mean I live in (Conception Bay South), and it’s nothing for someone to just have a birthday and throw off some fireworks. You know? And if I’m unprepared for it, I could be out and have him in the backyard outside the fenced area, and he’ll disappear. So I always have to be cautious when it comes to that stuff, this time of year especially.”
It’s not just the condensed metro area where fireworks are a concern for dogs.
Lynnette Collins, a dog owner living in Harbour Grace, feels a similar anxiety.
“I guess what frustrates me is that here, people don’t really restrict themselves to a specific time. You can’t really sedate your dog for it, because there could be fireworks going off any time. So it makes it difficult. But we do our best to get through,” she said.
Collins used to live in Fort McMurray, Alta., where fireworks are restricted to a specific time and location. Since Collins didn’t live that close to the fireworks site, she didn’t even know that her 11-year-old shepherd mix was terrified of fireworks until she moved.
“There is a sedative you can give dogs ahead of time, if you give it to them before they start to get panicky,” Collins said. “But if you don’t know when people are going to start, you can’t use it, because it takes a few hours to be effective. What I’ve found for my dog is that he acts drunk when he’s on the sedatives, so what you’ve got is a drunken terrified
dog, which just seems to make it worse.”
Despite this lack of predictability, some of Hillier’s advice, such as tiring dogs out through exercise or staying with them during the blasts without showing signs of panic, could help the owners of skittish dogs brave the fireworks that mark celebrations.