LOUDOUN COUNTY, VA — Charlie, Lucy and all the other family dogs making your lives richer are more likely to run away on July 4-5 than at any other time of the year as they flee in terror from the booming fireworks displays commemorating Independence Day.
This year, cities and groups across America, including in Loudoun County, have canceled a slew of Fourth of July fireworks displays to discourage large crowds where the coronavirus can easily spread. Charlie and Lucy probably haven’t noticed.
In the past, dog owners have had more control over when or if their pets are exposed to loud fireworks. But now, several cities have reported spikes in the number of people shooting off illegal fireworks since the pandemic began.
Across Northern Virginia, police departments already are getting complaints about bottle rockets, Roman candles, M-80s, cherry bombs and even artillery shells days before July 4. Fireworks have been exploding in neighborhoods each night this week. The racket is more than a nuisance for people with PTSD, the elderly and children, and dogs.
“My poor dog,” one person commented on a police department social media post publicizing a hotline number for fireworks complaints. “I just don’t understand the point of them. They want to do it on the 4th of July fine, but every night is ridiculous!”
Wrote another: “I honestly could not care less but myall night.”
One problem for dog owners is that they can plan around the organized fireworks shows but not the spontaneous displays lighting up communities across Loudoun County.
Dogs have a heightened sense of hearing that makes the booming, buzzing, hissing, crackling, humming and whistling of fireworks a traumatic experience. They’re likely to bolt, and that makes July 5 typically the busiest time of year at the animal shelter here in Loudoun County and elsewhere across the country.
“They don’t know where the noise is coming from, and they try to escape because they don’t understand,” according to Dallas Harsa, an executive at the American Kennel Club’s Reunite, which through its history has helped return of more than 500,000 lost pets to their owners.
If Charlie and Lucy run and cower at the sound of the first clap of thunder, the cacophony of fireworks will be “utterly terrifying,” according to the American Humane Society. Even dogs that are secured with a leash or chain can break loose and jump a high fence when frightened.
Dogs that ran away in terror may never come home. The National Council on Pet Population and Policy estimates that fewer than 2 percent of cats and 20 percent of dogs entering animal shelters are reunited with their owners.
At night around July 4, try to keep your dog indoors. But if fireworks send your dog fleeing, the Humane Society of the United States advises first checking with local animal shelters and animal control agencies. Places to check close to home include:
Also, search your neighborhood several times a day, and ask neighbors, mail carriers and delivery people if they’ve seen your dog. It’s also a good idea to hand out recent photographs of your dog along with your contact information.
Also consider checking shelters within a 60-mile radius of your home.
A number of online sites help reunite pets with their owners, including Pet FBI, or Pets Found By Internet. Some others include:
The Humane Society cautions pet owners to be wary of pet-recovery scams.
“When talking to a stranger who claims to have found your pet, ask him to describe the pet thoroughly before you offer any information,” the organization advises. “If he does not include the identifying characteristic you left out of the advertisements, he may not really have your pet. Be particularly wary of people who insist that you give or wire them money for the return of your pet.”
The best thing, of course, is to keep Charlie and Lucy safely at home. Here are some tips:
Take the pooches on extra-long walks and schedule vigorous play time to tire them out before the festivities begin.
Leave the dogs at home if you and the family go out to watch fireworks displays. It’s best to sequester them inside and make a place where they’re shielded from loud noises. Turn on a radio or television to soften loud noises.
If you already know the dogs are frightened by loud noises, don’t leave them alone while you’re out celebrating. Make sure someone can stay behind with them.
If you can’t leave your dog unattended, make sure the pooch is leashed and under your direct control at all times.
If dogs become highly agitated in noisy situations, consult your veterinarian in advance to determine if tranquilizers are an option. There are some non-prescription alternatives, such as ThunderShirt or other anti-anxiety jackets (they’re made for cats, too) that apply gentle, constant pressure similar to swaddling an infant, the makers say.
Make sure the dogs are microchipped and that the license is current, and that ID tags with contact information are properly affixed to the pooch’s collar, which should fit securely enough the dog can’t slip out of it. This information is vital if your pet does run away.
Summer in general is a dangerous time for dogs. Never leave pets unattended in a car, even if it doesn’t seem very hot outside. For example, the temperature outside can be a comfortable 72 degrees but can increase by about 45 degrees inside the car within an hour.
Also, hot pavement can injure your dog’s unprotected paws. The Humane Society of the United States says that if it’s too hot for you to put your hand on the pavement for five seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to safely walk on that surface.
This article originally appeared on the Ashburn Patch