AmericanHumane.org lists July 5th as the busiest day of the year in animal shelters "as companion animals that fled in fright the night before are found miles from their homes, disoriented and exhausted, and anxious families often find themselves searching the streets and shelters looking for a treasured family member whose fear drove him to jump a high fence or break his leash or chain."
Fireworks: it's not uncommon for dogs, and even cats, to cower in fear at the sounds and sights of them, and often they will resort to dangerous or destructive measures to find safety, including running as far away as they can, and often that means far away from home.
Other than opting out of the holiday's traditional celebrations and isolating you and your pet(s) on a deserted island, there's not much you can do to completely eliminate their fear, but here are a few things you can do to help comfort your pet and ensure they remain, or return, safe at home:
1. Take steps to prevent pets from escaping your home or yard and make sure their ID tags and microchip information are up to date in case they do. No microchip? It's not too late! The SPCA's Veterinary Care Center offers them for just $25 and you don't even need an appointment.
2. Yes, they are scared and it is okay to comfort them, but doing so in a nervous or anxious tone will only reinforce their fear. Instead, speak in calm, soothing tones, letting them know you’re not scared. Pets look to us for reassurance and definitely take cues from our energy and behavior.
3. Give them access to a safe hiding place and let them stay there as long as necessary. Trying to drag a pet out of a confined space because you don’t want him to be scared will have the opposite effect. Close the blinds and drapes and try music, television, or white noise, like a fan, to mask the outside noises.
4. Be there for them. Even if your pet is hiding out of your sight, knowing your calming presence and protection are nearby is reassuring. If you must leave your pet alone during this scary time, make sure he is safely contained. Sudden panic can lead a pet to jump fences and even break through windows.
5. Consider calming supplements or anti-anxiety medications for excessively fearful pets. Many are available over the counter, or speak with your veterinarian about prescription medication. It may not completely calm their fears, but it can take the edge off and help them relax a bit.
6. Thundershirts help some pets and are available for cats and dogs in various sizes. Find them online or in pet stores.
7. Make sure your pet has access to water. Stressed pets pant more, become hot and thirsty and can become dehydrated; plus not having access to water can contribute to their stress.
In addition, keep these general safety tips in mind this summer: keep your pet at a safe distance away from the grill, don't feed them bones, and definitely DO NOT take them with you to a fireworks display. Be aware of hot pavement or sand - if the ground is too hot for your bare feet, it's too hot for their bare paws. Know the symptoms of heat stroke and be prepared to get to a vet fast. Keep your vet's phone number and after hours number on hand and make sure you know where the nearest emergency vet is, just in case.
All of this may seem like a lot to remember and a lot of work but I think we can all agree that it's worth it to keep your pets safe and happy.
Sarah Neikam is the Operations Manager for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.