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Publish Date: 7/2/2005

Unfortunately, ear protection won’t fit on Helen Carlson’s dogs. Sadie, right, and Bayley — pictured at their Weld County home on Wednesday — are both terrified of fireworks and usually go into hiding on the Fourth of July. Times-Call/Joshua Buck

Help furry friends get through Fourth
Fireworks can make holiday one of terror

Primal fear doesn’t even begin to describe how Bayley reacts to noise from Fourth of July fireworks every year.

She paces. She shakes. She retreats to a bathroom or closet and sometimes has to take anti-anxiety medication to calm her nerves.

Once, she even tried chewing through a reinforced aluminum fence to escape the deafening din.

“It’s better than her hurting herself,” Weld County resident Helen Carlson said of reluctantly giving “doggie downers” to her 8-year-old golden retriever, “but it does give her the munchies.”

For many canines, from Chihuahuas to St. Bernards, Independence Day is a holiday of sheer terror.

The novel, unpredictable and high-volume noise from fireworks explosions can cause “fight or flight” reactions in dogs, although no one knows exactly why, says University of Colorado biology professor Marc Bekoff, an animal-behavior expert.

Other animals, such as horses, are relatively undisturbed.

Symptoms of anxiety and distress in dogs include shaking, heavy panting, drooling, pawing and other abnormal behavior.

“We get more dogs and cats after the Fourth of July than any other time of year,” said Brianna Beauvait, education director for the Longmont Humane Society, the city’s animal shelter.

“(Dogs) will go to all kinds of extremes” to escape the noise of fireworks, said Jacki Shubert, an animal-control officer with the city of Longmont. She said dogs will claw through, dig under or jump over fences and even break through pane glass in an effort to flee the cacophony.

In the event a pet escapes, Shubert recommended filling out a lost-animal report with the Longmont Humane Society, the only organization in town to keep a list of all missing animals. She said it also is important that all animals’ tags and licenses are up to date so they can be easily traced.

Loud blasts affect cats as well, but because of their size, they are usually able to find an enclosed space where they feel safe, according to Shubert.

To keep animals calm and distracted during Fourth of July celebrations, she said, the shelter plays string music from a tape scientifically proved to soothe dogs.

According to VeterinaryPartner.com, noise phobia in dogs is both a learned and innate behavior.

Temple Grandin, assistant professor of animal science at Colorado State University, said most dogs are terrified of fireworks, but reactions and levels of fear often depend on personality.

“It has more to do with the temperament of the animal,” she said. “There’s individual differences in how animals are going to react to things.”

Although there is some disagreement among animal specialists, many say that dogs can be helped to overcome noise fears through training.

“Animals can get used to things like trains going by every day,” Grandin said. But she added that certain noises, because of their loudness and frequency, are sometimes unbearable, even for humans.

“There’s no way you’re going to habituate to a jackhammer next to your desk,” Grandin said.

Because fireworks generally happen only once a year, dogs don’t have a chance to get accustomed to the noise. Grandin and other animal specialists suggested playing thunder tapes while an animal is doing something it enjoys, such as eating or playing, and gradually increasing the volume.

As for the response of wild animals to noises such as thunder in their natural environment, Grandin said creatures take cues from their parents’ reactions.

“Animals learn from momma not to be afraid,” she said.

Erin Quinn can be reached at 303-684-5336, or by e-mail at equinn@times-call.com.

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