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Fireworks and my Pup

A fluffy dog staring at you
My dog ran to the empty bathtub, hopped in, and looked at me from behind the shower curtain. She wasn’t budging.

This was going to be a very long 4th of July.

I used to love Independence Day. And truthfully, I still do. I’m as patriotic as Uncle Sam; happy to revel in our independence from the British empire. The 4th is a beautiful day to celebrate freedom, love for our country, and all the barbeque we can eat. Not to mention, the fun fireworks.

What I hadn’t understood in the past was how poorly a lot of animals adapt to fireworks, or rather, don’t adapt at all. Growing up, my two dogs didn’t take much issue with fireworks. It wasn’t a problem. The booming sounds didn’t disrupt their calm. So, naturally, it didn’t seem like a “thing” to have anxious dogs on the 4th.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

My husband, our sons, and I got our rescue pup over a dozen years ago, and as soon the 4th was upon us, I understood one thing: that whole concept of happy critters on the 4th – like us humans – was a myth.

My previous dogs were unusual. What I now had in front of me – the shaking, terrified, sniffling, cowering, and severely scared sweet dog – was not only more standard but almost a norm for most folks all over the US

That’s when the uncontrollable shaking began, and if you’ve never seen an animal go through this, it’s on the horrific side. My dog began shaking and did this for hours. The hop into the bathtub was a safe place for her. And yet, there was nothing to calm her down. The amount of energy she expelled was like running a marathon. 

This year, the fireworks were loud and intense, and they began about four days before the 4th and continued a couple of days afterward. While my dog is older and has been through many seasons of fireworks, she still becomes highly agitated, shaking, and panting for hours. 

After an initial bathtub run, she went to my son’s room and scooted as close to the bed as possible (without getting under it because she doesn’t fit!) which conveniently was next to a fan blowing cool air and minimizing the loud booms. She stayed there for most of the night. Which was a wonderful thing. This may have been the first 4th of July that I got some sleep, too. It would seem, she has adapted just enough to self-soothe herself. 

But, I also think her age, lessening hearing, and memory for the loud sounds are finally doing her some good. In a way, she has acclimated to the sounds, and it has desensitized her. If I had known how badly she would react to fireworks over the next decade I would have done what I could to desensitize her earlier.

During the first two years of my pup’s life, she didn’t know what fireworks were, and her fear of them was equivalent to a toddler’s curiosity; which was no fear at all. We thought everything was great until, about her third year, after a particularly loud New Year’s Eve Fireworks episode.

That was the end of my naivete.

I’ve read that dogs have hearing four times better than humans and a cat’s hearing, is better than that. So with fireworks, we have the dual negative of the fireworks noise and its unpredictability. Not to mention the flashing lights and unusual smells. Combined, this is a recipe for disaster. Fireworks cause animals to flee from their safe environments because they are so traumatized by the noise; running to a “safer” place, which ends up not being not safe at all. And many times, animals become lost. Fireworks also affect wildlife, from birds to coyotes, deer, and everything in between.

While there are many tools on the market to help combat fireworks fears, most of them don’t work. I know because I’ve tried. The best I can do is hold, hug, and keep talking to her. I turn on the fans to create a soothing white noise, we close the windows, and when we go to bed, if she’s still shaking, all we can do is hope for the best. In the past she would roam from room to room, panting, shaking, and cowering for hours.

Now, she has learned to dig into the panic by finding a safe spot to lie down. 

Most nights, my dog sleeps in her bed just outside my bedroom. But two days of the year, New Year’s Eve and the 4th of July are exceptions: my door is open, and I allow her to come in our room and lie down right next to me if she wants to. I would do nearly anything to make her feel better.

On the 4th of July and New Year's Eve, my dog and I are a miserable mess together.

Here's a little advice for pet owners on the 4th: Do what you can to distract and minimize their trauma; keep them inside, turn on fans as white noise, play soothing music, and stay next to them. If they have you nearby, that is one less stress on their little bodies. And if you can desensitize them to the noise early on, when they're puppies, you'll thank yourself later.

While I can’t explain to my dog why we have these crazy things called fireworks, and though I can’t make it go away, I can try to ease her trauma, soothe her anxiety, and hopefully, with every passing year, get her a little more accustomed to the sounds. 

Even if firework joy has lessened in its value and fun for me, I understand the appeal. I just wish it didn’t hurt animals like it does. Since I can't change this, I’ll keep doing what I can for my pup as long as she lets me.

God bless America and God bless our animals.