Shelter directors say fireworks can be terrifying for family pets

Panicked animals often respond to booms by trying to flee

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Tina Roper, the director of the Aztec Animal Shelter, is not a big fan of the July 4 weekend.

In fact, she says with a sigh, "This is my least favorite time of the year."

Roper's trepidation about the holiday is not a matter of any dislike for celebrations of America's independence. It is, however, a function of years spent observing the negative impact that fireworks have on animals, specifically dogs and cats who are terrified by the explosions and deal with their fear by running away.

"I wish people would take into consideration those animals," she said.

The number of stray animals picked up and taken to the Aztec shelter for safekeeping over the holiday weekend varies widely from year to year, Roper said. But she knows for a fact that more animals run away from their home this time of year than any other.

Tina Roper, director of the Aztec Animal Shelter, says her facility sees a dramatic increase this time of year in the number of calls from owners reporting runaway pets.

"I can tell you the number of phone calls we receive from owners looking for their pets increases tremendously," she said, explaining that increase starts on July 5 every year and lasts for the next few days.

"Hopefully, (the animals) will come here, and we can reunite them," she said.

But too often, that isn't the case, she said. Many missing animals are not recovered by animal control officers and are never reunited with their anxious humans.

In other cases, she said, her shelter will be contacted by a pet owner when the animal has gone missing, but officials won't be notified if and when the animal returns home or is found by its owner. That leaves Roper and her staff wondering how many happy endings there are to this scenario.

Roper isn't the only local animal welfare professional who frets over the negative impact of the holiday weekend. Stacie Voss, the director of the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter, estimated her facility sees an increase of 10 to 20 percent in the number of stray animals brought into the shelter in the aftermath of the holiday.

Voss hesitated to attribute that increase solely to fireworks, noting that many families travel over the holiday weekend, and some animals escape when a pet sitter is not as diligent as he or she should be.

A cat peers out from under a storage shed July 3 in downtown Farmington. The July 4 holiday weekend can be a terrifying time for many animals unaccustomed to the noise of fireworks.

But she linked most of the surge in strays to the fear many animals experience from the noise of fireworks. She likened their reaction to panic and said the fleeing animals are often just looking for a place to go where they can get away from the noise.

Roper said the noise seems to scare mostly dogs, but she said it also causes fear in cats and many forms of wildlife. She said the explosions affect every animal differently, explaining that she has several dogs at home, and only one of them is bothered by fireworks. But that canine reacts very poorly to the noise.

"She shakes, and she'll jump in my lap and try to get behind me in the chair," Roper said. "I've had her since she was little, so I know it's not one particular (incident) that has caused this. I don't know why she's so afraid of fireworks, but some dogs are, and some aren't."

Voss suggests that all pet owners keep their animals inside during fireworks displays to prevent the possibility of their panicking and running off.

"Keep them inside and have a space for them where they feel most comfortable, whether it's a bathroom, a bed or a crate," she said, adding it's also a good idea to provide some light background noise such as music or a dishwasher to mask the sound of boom of fireworks.

She also said cuddling frightened pets is a good idea.

"It's not true that you can reinforce fear," she said, dispelling the idea that it's harmful to comfort an animal that often experiences that sensation.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.