Indeed, it was a holiday that I loved as a kid.
After all, school was out and the sun stayed up for hours. Plus, what’s not to like about grilled burgers, baked beans and homemade potato salad; dressing up in red, white and blue, and the most exciting part, getting to set off sparklers in the back yard?
These used to be my little girl Fourth of July memories.
But now that we have three dogs—Hank, Rusty and Sadie—those kinds of days, but most especially those nights, are gone.
In case you didn’t know, that’s because those of us who consider our dogs family have learned that the booms and flashes of fireworks mean The Season of Dread. The same is often true for cat and bird lovers, and it’s not exactly festive for the one in eight human veterans who suffer from PTSD.
As a matter of record, a recent New York Times blog reports that at least 40 percent of dogs experience noise anxiety come July. The article goes on to quote sad stories of dogs who, upon experiencing fireworks, hide in places so tight they get stuck (one friend’s Rhodesian Ridgeback mix cowers behind toilet pipes, then flips out even more upon discovering that she can’t move); gnaw on door handles, and even crash through windows, literally running for miles to escape.
The same friend whose big girl cowers in her bathroom also once worked for animal control in another town a few hours
“July Fourth was always bad but the day after was actually the worst,” she says. “That’s when we got the most reports of dogs so completely freaked out that they were found running on freeways, usually far away from their homes.” My friend adds that these were the fortunate ones, since many more were found dead by the sides of roads, victims of nocturnal hit and runs.
So far, we’ve done a lot better here at the Grant homestead. Still, it’s a trying time for humans and critters alike.
It doesn’t help that all of our dogs are rescues, and that two carry significant baggage.
My goofball hound Hank is the lucky one, not only because he was fostered as a puppy and put into my arms at six weeks old, but because he also spent those first months snuggling with his mom and siblings, and along the way, learned crucial doggie social skills. Rusty is a drop-dead gorgeous Aussie shepherd, but not as blessed. Born in a puppy mill, his first owners kept him crated nearly all of the time, and there is also evidence of him being hit and kicked. So, even on his best days, Rusty is a hot mess of nerves and anxiety.
But when it comes to the Fourth of July, Sadie suffers most.
A majestic Antolian shepherd (think German shepherd with golden retriever ears), animal services rescued her when she was about a year old from a desert field several hours from us. For reasons we’ll never know, she and a few other dogs were abandoned for who-knows-how-long, and left to completely fend for themselves in every way.
At some point, someone loved Sadie because she is protective and affectionate, but she was also 30 pounds underweight when we met. She’s especially frightened when she hears coyotes baying, often pacing, barking nonstop and frantically running in circles. Fireworks cause the same reaction, except more pronounced.
And once Sadie becomes hysterical, the other dogs join in.
But since Fourth of July fireworks aren’t going to end anytime soon—even though they’re illegal here with a hefty fine attached—what’s to be done?
First, given that the folks who set off these noisemakers are inconsiderate louts to begin with, and sometimes even think our dilemma is funny, we can’t ask them to stop (yes, I’ve tried). So out of necessity, we’ve found other solutions, a mash-up of old and new, with mixed results.
We set the radio dial to classical music in the living room, which helped a bit. We also kept a fan running in our bedroom, creating white noise for the two dogs who sleep there. And although we haven’t tried this (yet), other pet lovers swear by calming wraps and “thundershirts,” which work the same way that swaddling does for infants (can anyone recommend one?).
But ultimately, in order for anyone to get any rest, we resorted to pills.
Hank and Rusty got Benedryl, and it did seem to help. They moved slower; went into a deeper sleep, and were nonresponsive to the smaller booms. Sadie needed more of a boost, so our veterinarian prescribed Xanex, as well as the more powerful sedative Acepromazine, also called Ace, which was new to us. We felt it necessary to use one night, but found the results negligible. (First given to people in the 1950s as an antipsychotic, but now almost exclusively given to animals, many animal behaviorists have come to believe that Ace does nothing to calm suffering pets. Rather, they say it makes them unable to move or exhibit any other outward indications of their fear, equivalent to a “chemical straitjacket.” I don’t think we’re trying it again.)
Then there’s Sileo, the first drug ever specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration for canine noise aversion. An injectable, flavorless gel that’s squeezed between a dog’s cheek and gum, a single dose is about $30 and must be administered by a vet. Given Sadie’s size, we were told she would need at least three doses. It’s an expensive option, but one we may have to consider down the road.
Amidst all of this, there’s some welcome news.
This past year, the town of Collecchio, in Italy, decided that its pets are more important than the booming of fireworks. So, the local government enacted a measure that now requires all of its citizens to use silent fireworks. Germany has also banned fireworks near refugee shelters in order to reduce trauma, so perhaps a positive trend is emerging.
As for this American girl clown, I’m sad that I can’t attend any Fourth of July celebrations. But the trade-off is so worth it that, really, it’s an option I don’t much think about anymore.
After all, our sweet dogs are our kinfolk, and I love them just as fiercely as I do my daughter.
And for now, all is well.
At least until New Year’s Eve.
What do you think about dogs and fireworks, and what advice can you give this girl clown (besides moving to Collecchio)? I look forward to your comments and stories, as well as great Fourth of July memories!