Fireworks warning aimed at dog owners

Rebekah Ward
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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 It’s only for fireworks that he becomes that withdrawn and traumatized that he’ll hide and not respond to anybody.”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.

 

rebekah.ward@thetelegram.com

 

Organizations: Humane Services, Regional Fire Department, Conception Bay South

Geographic location: C.B.S., Fort McMurray

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Recent comments

  • Anthony
    June 30, 2013 - 10:48

    Thundershirts will work for some dogs or will at least decrease the level of anxiety. I really exercise my dogs the day of known fireworks (July 1st and December 31st), put on the Thundershirt in advance, we all go to the basement rec room and make things normal by having the tv on, etc. Thundershirts come with a money back offer during the first 30 days! Try them. For those of you with neighbours that randomly shoot off fireworks have you spoken to the neighbours? Our neighbours love our dogs and now just let us know in advance if they will be having fireworks and when.

  • California Pete from NFLD
    June 27, 2013 - 12:49

    Non Dog owners and others who just don't care don't get it. Please come and see my little 10 lb dog go throught the mototions when fireworks go off. It's total pandemonium and he vibeates like no one one can't explain how bad he feels

  • Dog Owner
    June 27, 2013 - 10:28

    I HATE fireworks and just for this purpose. I have two medium/large breeds myself, the oldest is not afraid of anything but my younger one is terrified of fireworks/thunder/loud noises...I've just purchased a Thunder Shirt, this is supposed to have calming effects on Dogs (without the Drunken Dog side effects), I have done some research and I have friends who have raved about it...I put it on her last night and it seem to have a calming effect so I'm hoping that it will do the trick for the time It's needed!

  • Lee
    June 27, 2013 - 10:05

    Not that I am not sympathic to an animal's sensitivity to noise and not saying that this is the case for those that have posted comments, but I have two neighbours with 3 dogs each (the limit for our town) and they do not seem to mind the noise that their animals create when they put them outside. This does not happen on special occasions but more than a few times everyday, all hours of the day and night. So if a neighbour wanted to put off fireworks one or two evenings a year, I don't think that you have the right to complain.

    • Karen
      June 27, 2013 - 13:37

      Sorry to hear you have such inconsiderate neighbors, but nice that you are sympathetic to the dogs' distress anyway. As a dog owner myself, I find it frustrating that so many people don't care how much they disturb others, whether by leaving their dogs to bark or by running noisy machinery, music, etc.

  • HL
    June 27, 2013 - 09:06

    I think fireworks should be banned on people's properties and at certain festivities during the year at particular places. I have a puppy that is totally scared to death when she hears fireworks-she tenses up and hides. It isn't fair to pet owners to allow this to go on in people's back yards and any time of the day or night.

  • Ryan
    June 27, 2013 - 07:59

    I have 2 small puppies, and it really iratates me when you have what I will call morons, setting off fireworks from their back yard, right next to my house. And they will set them off all hours of the night. Newfoundland should adopt the same law, restrict people to a certain area and time to set off their fireworks.

  • Robert
    June 27, 2013 - 06:42

    As a dog owner of a dog who just loses all control during fireworks I do know that at the end of the day the noise won't hurt the dog. I try to keep the dog in a secluded area of the house.......the basement bathroom seems to work best. But the best thing you can do is to make sure your dog has a collar and contact info on the collar. We are all dog owners so after July 01 or Dec 31 just be on the lookout for that lost dog in your neighborhood, catch the poor thing and do what it takes to reunite it with its owner. You will have the pleasure of making the owner very happy indeed.......way better than a free coffee!