Countless animals escape from backyards during the Fourth of July each year, ending up in Merced County’s overburdened shelters.
But a few simple tips can help pet owners ensure that their animals don’t end up on the streets or inside a cage at the shelter.
“It’s the worst day of the year in terms of so many animals getting frightened and escaping,” said Jennifer Fearing, California spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States. “The shelters are typically full on a regular basis, and the Fourth of July puts a tremendous burden on top of already overworked shelters.”
Animal experts like Fearing say the sound of fireworks is extremely distressing to pets, sending them into a state of panic and causing them to flee from homes, backyards and fences.
“Our pets are simply more sensitive to loud noises, strong smells and flashing lights than we are,” Fearing said. “Those are all features of Fourth of July festivities.”
The No. 1 thing pet owners should remember is to keep animals inside the house on the Fourth of July, Fearing said. She recommended creating a “tranquil” environment for pets by drowning out the sound of firecrackers using white noise from things like a fan or television.
Animals should never be taken to public fireworks displays, Fearing added, because it can be disorienting and unpredictable for them.
Fearing said pet owners should also ensure that animals have collars with proper identification tags, including the owner’s name and phone number. Even better is a microchip that has current contact information.
“Even if the animals live indoors, throw a collar on them just in case they get distracted,” she said. “The collar tag is the very best way for an animal to find their way home.”
For pets that are extremely nervous around loud sounds, a call to the veterinarian might be the best plan of action. The vet can prescribe calming medication or suggest over-the-counter devices to reduce fear and anxiety.
Fearing warned against putting animals inside a crate during fireworks because it can heighten anxiety – leading to pets hurting themselves trying to escape. Pet owners should never “force” an animal to endure the firecrackers, she added.
Merced SPCA President Josie Pulido said her organization is already filled to capacity because of puppy and kitten season.
Still, Pulido said, SPCA volunteers will find between five and 10 dogs the morning after the Fourth of July – most of which are lost and very frightened.
“A lot of homes have poor fencing, and they’ll dig their way out. They’ll do anything to escape because they are so scared and their master is not around to protect them,” Pulido said. “When the Fourth (of July) comes along, we really don’t have much room, so that makes it hard to help more animals.”
Pulido urged pet owners to microchip their animals to give them the best chance at being returned home. Volunteers at the SPCA scan all lost pets when they first come to the shelter.
“If they were chipped, that would be such a big help to us,” Pulido said.
Another reason to keep pets indoors is the scorching hot temperatures. Forecasters predict a high of 101 degrees on the Fourth of July in Merced, according to Gary Sanger, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hanford.
“For safety reasons, it’s probably better not to take the dog with you if you’re going to be making some stops, especially in the afternoon,” said William Bell, owner of Santa Fe Pet Hospital in Merced. “A dog can’t really sweat, and their temperatures just go up. You really shouldn’t take them running or do anything when it’s hot outside.”
Residents should call 911 if they see an animal inside a hot car.
For a truly safe and fun Fourth of July holiday, pet experts agree – leaving Fido at home is the best way to go.