Our fireworks fantasy is Fido’s nightmare

Fireworks. Fireworks shows are back. But from what some pet owners tell us, not every member of the family is keen on the ka-booms. Here’s what you need to know to ease their stress.

| 01 Jul 2021 | 06:16

Mike Stura operates Skylands Animal Sanctuary in Wantage, N.J. When it comes to farm animals, you name it, he’s rescued it, from roosters to pigs to horses. He saved a very special calf named Jimmy, the reason he started the sanctuary.

Surprisingly, when it comes to fireworks, his animals don’t react.

Then there’s Gigi.

“Gigi is pit bull with a kind soul who dreads fireworks,” Stura said. “She hears the noise and she’ll start drooling, hiding, and even take refuge in the bathtub. If we’re not home and she’s in her crate, she’ll gnaw on it.”

Last year, the pandemic dimmed the skies over the Fourth of July. This year, fasten your seat belts. Celebrations are planned all around the tristate area through most of July. Expect amazing pyrotechnics and grand finales and all of the snap, crackle, and pop that make the Fourth so awesome.

But what about the noise? Fireworks are loud. To be sure, some creatures great and small won’t be thrilled with the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.

“We get an incredible number of calls on the Fourth of July from pet owners who have animals that are already anxious,” said veterinarian Don Costlow, owner of Newton Veterinary Hospital in Newton, N.J. “The key is to start early so your pet never gets freaked out. If your pet tends to react poorly to fireworks or loud noises, there are several ways to help.”

He suggests insulating pets from the noise by putting them in a quiet location in the house. Playing relaxing music also help.

“There are also medications such as Xanax and Sileo that are very effective during fireworks and thunderstorms,” Costlow said. “ThunderShirts are a non-pharmaceutical treatment for anxiety that have proven effective.” These “anxiety vests” provide gentle pressure that dogs find calming.

“The key is to start any plan prior to the start of the fireworks,” Costlow said.

Runaround Jill

Joyce Stever says different horses react in different ways to fireworks, depending on how far away the noise is. But Jill, a majestic equine who lives in Chester, N.Y., is not a fan in the least.

“She’ll spook, turn her head and just try to get away from the noise,” said Stever, her instructor. “If she’s in her stall, she’ll spin around, and if she’s in her paddock, she’ll run around in circles.”

Dryer turned bunker

Bob and Beth Quinn, of Goshen, N.Y., fondly remember their German shepherd Riley.

“He was a beautiful athlete except when it came to loud noises,” Bob Quinn said. “At between 110 to 120 pounds, Riley would jump into the bathtub.”

This is the same dog who guarded their home when, say, the mailman came to the door, jumping up and down like a tough guy. But sudden loud noises?

“One time, my wife was in the basement doing laundry and there was a big boom,” Quinn said. “Riley went flying down the stairs and made a beeline for the dryer. My wife had been taking clothes out, so it was open and became his hiding spot.”

Campground races

Jeanne and Brad Heinke, of Branchville, N.J., remember camping in Cape May with their Irish setter Kelly, their very first dog and the love of their four-footed life. It was the Fourth, and they went out without Kelly.

“Obviously there were fireworks, and when we returned to our trailer we find our dog on a rope tied to the outside of our trailer,” Jeanne Heinke said. “The fireworks went off, and our Irish setter leapt through the front window that went across the front of the trailer and was running helter-skelter.”

People in the campground went after her and caught her.

“They didn’t quite know what to do so they tied her up to our camper and we found her there when we got home,” Heinke said. “This is the same dog that sometimes, when we would come home after a thunderstorm, we would find in the bathtub and during other firework scenarios, jumped up and dug out grooves in our bedroom dresser — which we still have and I’ll never get rid of because it reminds me of her. Kelly hated fireworks, and the worst part was you never knew when they were going to happen if you were away.”

Dog, or ostrich?

Ann Paterno of Stillwater, N.J., has seen her powerful two 90-pound German shepherds reduced to a puppy-like state when it comes to fireworks.

“They would cower in fear, and in fact the female would run into the bedroom and stick her head under the bed like an ostrich,” she said. “I always felt so badly but there was no consoling them, so I would turn the radio on loud and try to make as much noise to cover it up as I could.”

She said her horse doesn’t have a problem with fireworks, “but I’ve known others that I’ve actually run through fences and gotten injured while they were panicking. Fireworks aren’t fun for pets or pet owners.”

Our pets have a point

Fido isn’t the only community member who fears the Fourth. A local emergency room physician (who wishes to remain anonymous because of hospital policy) said he dreads it.

“If you’re on that day/night, it’s crazy,” he said. “People who have no business using firecrackers and fireworks in the first place end up in the ER with some pretty bad injuries.”

Sgt. Philip Curry of the New Jersey State Police Public Information Unit said “rules vary from state to state” when it comes to fireworks. He noted that the NJSP has updated its information sheet on fireworks regulations and statistics.

It includes some frightening facts from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency that protect the public from defective products. In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, it found, 73 percent of all fireworks injuries were sustained during the 30 days surrounding the Fourth.

There were 10,000 fireworks injuries nationwide, mostly burns to the hands, fingers, legs and head, including to the eyes, face, and ears. It may surprise some people to learn that sparklers are the top cause of injuries, with nearly half involving kids under 5. There were 12 reported deaths.

So, eyes to the sky and enjoy the show — from a safe distance. And remember that the animals you love might not be too keen on it. Turn up the lullabies, open the dryer, break out the Xanax. Give your pets a little extra love during the ka-booms.

Pennsylvania’s fireworks law became less restrictive in 2017. Pennsylvania residents 18 and older can now purchase without a permit fireworks previously available only to out-of-state residents, including firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and other fireworks as long as they contain no more than 50 milligrams of explosive material. Airborne fireworks must be purchased at brick-and-mortar stores.
Fireworks may not be ignited in the direction of cars or buildings, or on any property without the property owner’s permission. They cannot be discharged within 150 feet of an occupied structure, whether or not the occupant is actually present, or by a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
To learn more visit the Pennsylvania State Police information page at psp.pa.gov/public-safety/Pages/fireworks-safety.aspx
New York allows only the sale and use of “sparkling devices,” that is, sparklers, whether ground-based or handheld. However, 12 counties have prohibited them. They are legal in Orange County except in the cities of Middletown and Newburgh.
For more information visit Homeland Security and Emergency Services at dhses.ny.gov/ofpc/news/sparklingdevices.cfm
It is illegal to sell, possess, or use fireworks anywhere in New Jersey without a permit. However, recent changes to the law now permit people 16 and older to buy and use “sparkling devices and novelties” such as sparklers, snakes, and glow worms, smoke devices, and trick noisemakers like party poppers, snappers, and drop pops.
Local police chiefs and fire departments must approve permits for all other fireworks to be ignited in their municipalities.
“We get an incredible number of calls on the Fourth of July from pet owners who have animals that are already anxious. The key is to start early so your pet never gets freaked out. If your pet tends to react poorly to fireworks or loud noises, there are several ways to help.” Dr. Don Costlow, Newton Veterinary Hospital