Fireworks can fuel Fido’s fears


When 4th of July fireworks explode in the night sky, some dogs break through plate glass windows to get away. Some bolt through doors as soon as they open. Others, taken to see the fireworks by well-meaning owners, jump out of car windows or snap their leashes and run.

Steve Dostie, executive director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, has heard it all. And every year, at least one or two of the canine runaways find their way to his shelter.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

Humans may enjoy booming, flashing fireworks. But dogs and other pets often don’t. PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has even put out a national “urgent animal advisory” saying that, for animals, Independence Day “may seem more like ‘War of the Worlds’ than a summertime celebration.”

According to PETA, animal shelters nationwide see more runaway pets during the holiday.

In Brunswick, the Coastal Maine Humane Society says it definitely sees an increase in strays after the 4th, most of them dogs who have bolted from home or from owners who thought Fido would enjoy the show.

“It’s just awful,” said Sunny Kaiser, member of the shelter’s board of directors. “Don’t take them” to fireworks. “A lot of people do. They don’t care.”

Not only do dogs have very sensitive hearing, but “a dog’s instinct with loud noise is to go in the other direction,” said Jeff Mayerson, a veterinarian at Lewiston Veterinary Hospital.

Although some breeds are more likely to ignore loud noises – Labrador retrievers, for example – each dog is different. All the other neighborhood Labs may be just fine with fireworks, but your Lab may not.

In fact, Mayerson’s dog is a black Lab that cowers and trembles in the basement during fireworks time. But Mayerson says it could be worse: “There are some freakazoid dogs out there that … will tear the place to pieces.”

Some dogs get so frightened, so stressed, they have heart problems or seizures.

“We always prepare for Fourth of July incidents,” said Margaret McCloskey, co-manager at Lewiston Veterinary Hospital.

McCloskey’s own German shepherd once jumped through a small glass window because she was so afraid of the fireworks exploding nearby. Luckily, McCloskey said, the family got home shortly after it happened. They rushed the dog to the vet in time to save her life.

The McCloskey family had just adopted the shepherd and didn’t realize she was so afraid of loud noises.

For owners who do know their dog is afraid and know the local fireworks display can be heard from their home, experts recommend bringing the dog somewhere else, even if that means boarding for the night.

“The simplest answer is to stay away,” said Carleton Ring, veterinarian at the Auburn Animal Hospital.

If that isn’t possible, experts say owners should keep their dogs inside and stay with them. They suggest closing windows and curtains and turning up the radio or TV. Mayerson also suggests distracting your pet by playing with them, interacting and essentially getting their mind off the noise.

If that doesn’t work, vets can prescribe doggy sedatives or anti-anxiety medication.

Meds have helped McCloskey’s newest dog, a corgi. He’s just as frightened by loud noises as her German shepherd was.

“We have to guard our pets. We have to protect them,” McCloskey said. “We have to think for them.”

Experts’ dos and don’ts:

• Don’t take your dogs to see the fireworks. The noise is often scary to them.

• Don’t leave your dogs chained outside. They can break free and bolt, or hang themselves jumping over a fence in an attempt to run away.

• Do stay at home with your dog if you can. Close windows and curtains and try turning on a radio or TV.

• Do consider taking your dogs someplace else if you know they’re scared of loud noises and the local 4th of July celebration can be heard from your home.

• Do talk to your vet about sedatives or anti-anxiety medication if necessary.

• Do make sure that your dog is wearing an up-to-date ID tag, just in case.