I spent an hour last night rubbing the belly of Harley, the Chihuahua. Outside, fireworks were booming. Inside Harley was jumping up each time he heard a loud boom and racing frantically from window to window. When I went to bed; he followed me as usual; but could not settle or relax. Each new bang brought shivering and barking. I found that rubbing his tummy helped him relax. Every time I heard a boom; I started rubbing his belly and after about half an hour the noise of our neighbors celebrating the Fourth of July early wasn’t as stressful for the little guy and we were both able to get some sleep.
Statistically; more pets go missing in the days leading up to and following the Fourth of July than any other time of year. The ASPCA says July 5 is the busiest day for U.S. animal shelters in terms of people bringing in lost pets or people searching for their lost pet. It is estimated there is a 30 percent uptick on July 5 of lost pets.
Sadly, the statics of people who find their lost pet are not so encouraging. The ASPCA estimates between 15 to 20 percent of lost dogs are reunited with their families and only two percent of cats find their families again.
It isn’t just the fireworks that cause this upswing in lost animals. We LOVE to travel with our pets. Many people take the family pet to their favorite holiday spot or to visit family and friends. If the pet goes missing he is now in unfamiliar territory with no idea where home is.
Here are some tips to keep your pet safe this holiday season.
•••• Identification: seems simple, but so many people forget about it; especially for animals that rarely go outside. Animals have been known to go to great lengths to escape during fireworks including going through screened windows and even through glass. All pets should be wearing some form of identification.
I recommend two forms: A collar with an ID tag and a microchip. The collar with the ID tag will help someone locate you quickly. More people are likely to stop and help a pet if they see an ID tag because they know there will be a way to contact the owner. Don’t rely on your Rabies’ tag. Yes, it can help get your pet home; but the person finding your pet would have to wait until your veterinarian is open to get contact information. Your pet’s ID should have your CURRENT phone number. It is amazing how many pets are found with ID that has an outdated number. My ID tag also says Alone = Lost so anyone finding my dog will know if he isn’t with me; he is lost.
However, you also need a microchip on your pet. Lots of animals lose their collars when they are lost. I deliberately have my collar loose enough so my dog could get out of it if he became stuck. A microchip is a tiny device (the size of a grain of rice) implanted under your pet’s skin. A special scanner can find the chip and read the information. That information then has to be called into the chip company so the owner’s contact information can be located. Again, during holidays it might be 24 to 48 hours before someone can be found who can scan the pet. Veterinarians and animal shelters have the scanners and the information needed to retrieve the owner contact information. If your pet is microchipped now is a great time to log into your microchip company’s website and ensure your contact information is up to date.
There are also lots of GPS tracking systems now available for pets as well. These go on your dog’s collar. Again; only useful if your dog does not lose the collar. Don’t wait until your pet is lost though to try and figure out how the software works.
•••• Does your pet have to travel with you? While you love the companionship of your dog; and you know your dog loves you; is he really going to have as much fun as you are traveling to a Fourth of July Celebration? If he does travel with you; make sure he has a very safe and secure place to be anytime he is not with you.
•••• Don’t take your dog with you to the firework’s display. Even if he seems ok with loud noises, the flashing lights; people screaming, children rushing around with Sparklers, etc. are stressful to dogs. Believe me, your dog does not want to see the fireworks display.
•••• Bring outdoor cats inside. Put them in your garage if there is no other place to keep them. Not only are cats also afraid of fireworks, but each year there are horrific stories of people taking cats and doing horrendous things to them during the Fourth of July.
•••• Bring outdoor dogs inside. Dogs can easily break chains when they are terrified. Imagine being scared and being tied up. It is horrific for dogs. And if you have an invisible fence; forget it. Something like 30 percent of lost dogs are wearing invisible fence collars. Four years ago on July 3 I stopped at a four way stop sign and a huge dog came barreling out of a field frantically jumping at my windows. He was covered in drool and shaking so hard he could barely stand. He jumped in my car as soon as I opened the door. He was wearing an invisible fence collar, but no other ID. Luckily he was microchipped. Sadly, the primary contact number was no longer in service. Luckily, the secondary contact number still went to a relative of the owner and after three hours I was able to contact the owner and get his dog home to him. He said the dog had been out in the yard and had “never gone through the electric fence before.”
•••• If you know noises are problematic for your pet; spend some time preparing for the Fourth of July. Get some of his favorite chew items and stock up. Chewing can be very calming. If your dog heads to the bathtub when he is scared; line the tub with blankets and some chews for him. Do not allow children to bother the dog while he is scared.
Some websites still advocate not consoling the animal when it is scared. The thinking is that if you pet the dog or tell him it is ok then you are rewarding him for being scared. This is hogwash. If you were terrified of a spider and I hugged you; would you be more or less scared of the spider? Rubbing Harley’s tummy is a perfect example. Instead of making his behavior worse; I was able to reduce his anxiety because I was pairing something he loved (a tummy rub) with the sound of the bangs. If I was rewarding his barking behavior; then it should have gotten worse, not better.
•••• If your dog is truly phobic of loud noises; please seek the help of a veterinarian. There are several great products available. You can also look into products such as the Thundershirt and ADAPTIL. My previous dog, Condor, was terrified of fireworks. He would pant and drool. The Thundershirt definitely brought down his anxiety. He was still afraid, but it lessened the panting and drooling and allowed him to be in his crate curled up in a tight ball.
I generally don’t go to the local fireworks displays. I stay home and make sure the pets are ok. When I got pets I realized that they were a commitment that would sometimes mean that I had to think of their welfare.