Crazy things can happen around Independence Day, and stories of lost pets on the 4th are legion. Typically it's tales of dogs or cats who busted out of fenced yards or window screens, or even chewed through doors or crates in a manic attempt to escape the cacophony of terrifying noise.
My most memorable experience was a little different.
Early July 2013, I heard strange sounds in the middle of the night. I awoke the next day to find my car scratched and my utility trailer toppled. When it happened again the next night I went to investigate and ran smack into a Jersey bull in my driveway. While I do live in a rural area, I was not aware of a local resident bull. Turned out this 1500-pound neighbor had been wandering the neighborhood for days. He’d even made the news and some believed that 4th of July fireworks had spooked him, causing him to charge through his enclosure. This tale had a happy ending — neighbors and I were able to safely corral him, and the animal was reunited with his family.
Many summer escape artists aren’t so lucky. According to PetFinder.com, more pets are lost on the 4th than any other day of the year, making July 5th one of the busiest days for shelters nationwide.
A little prep can go a long way in ensuring 4th festivities are safe, fun, and sane for everyone in the family.
“My number-one tip this time of year is to be considerate and collaborate with neighbors,” says Amy Linder, Deputy Fire Marshal in Eugene.. If you’re hosting festivities, she says, “Have the courtesy to have a respectful conversation and let them know your plans and timeframe so they can plan accordingly to pre-medicate or go elsewhere.” Of course, if you’re not having a party, your neighbors might be, so again, engage in conversation so that you, too, can plan.
Of course festivities often begin before the 4th – with parties leading up to the holiday, including fireworks and noisemakers.
Comfort for the fearful
- Talk to your vet about tranquilizers. Not all meds affect every pet the same way — Valium works great for some, for example, but causes anxiety in others. If possible, try meds ahead for the best chance at finding something that works well for your lovebug.
- Thundershirts work wonders for some. These “jackets” apply gentle pressure to calm anxiety, fear, and overexcitement.
- Natural remedies — also worth discussing with your vet, or neighborhood pet supply, who are often very knowledgeable. Rescue Remedy among the most popular treatments; its five flower essences soothe panic, impatience, shock, and anxiety.
- Tellington Touch – or TTouch therapy – is also known to alleviate anxiety.
Check the perimeter
- Make sure they’re secure: rooms, windows, doors, fences and gates. Signs on same can help by reminding you and guests to be vigilant about keeping pets safely inside.
Set them up for a good day
- Exercise your pet early in the day, when it’s cooler, fireworks should be minimal or not yet going, and to encourage restful sleep during the festivities.
- Keep pets indoors, ideally in an interior, escape-proof room. If crate trained, a blanket-covered crate can provide a cozy nest within the safe room.
- Give them something to do. Jenn Fiendish, Vet Tech and Specialist in Behavior with Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland says this can help during festivities. “Provide favorite toys, feeder toys filled with a meal, etc.”
- Minimize stimuli by blocking sights and sounds. Draw the drapes/shades, run a fan, and/or play soft, soothing music or white noise. Fiendish says keep in mind, some radio and TV stations broadcast programs or ads featuring booming, patriotic sounds throughout the day.
Get them in uniform
- Make sure your pet has ID, a current microchip, tattoo, etc.
- Write or stitch your number inside your pet’s collar or clothing.
Clean up holiday hazards
When the party’s over, check your home and yard for debris before letting your pet out, including:
- sparklers and fireworks
- matches, charcoal, lighter fluid
- kabob skewers
- citronella candles, tiki torches
- alcohol and foods (keep pet-specific treats on hand for those who want to pamper your pet)
- sunscreen, insect repellent, and toys not designed specifically for pets
If your pet becomes lost
- Check local shelters (see list below).
- Post ads on craigslist, Facebook, and Nextdoor.com.
- Create a flyer. Search “Lost Pet Flyer” online for easy, printable templates, and be sure to include multiple, current photos of your pet from different angles, showing any identifying marks. A shot with you can demonstrate ownership later if needed. Distribute flyers in your area and through social media.
If your otherwise carefree critter suffers from severe pet noise phobia, Fiendish suggests planning ahead for next year. She says counter-conditioning and desensitization programs can be successful, but often take months. Still, she says, it can be worth it. “I’ve seen dogs that ripped skin off their legs in mindless terror on the 4th who, with desensitization conditioning, came to respond to the first fireworks of the year by wagging their tails knowing all was well and a yummy treat was coming.”
Animal Aid, Inc. * 503-292-6628
Cat Adoption Team * 503-925-8903
Clackamas County Dog Services * 503-655-8628
Clark County Animal Protection & Control * 360-397-2488
Columbia County Animal Control * 503-397-3935
Columbia County Humane Society * 503-397-4353
Greenhill Humane Society* 541-844-1777
Homeward Bound Pets * 503-472-0341
Humane Society for SW Washington * 360-693-4746
Humane Society of Central Oregon * 541-382-3537
Indigo Rescue * 503-626-7222
Marion County Dog Control Services * 503-566-6966
Multnomah County Animal Services * 503-988-7387
Newberg Animal Shelter * 503-554-9285
Oregon Humane Society * 503-285-7722
Yamhill County Dog Control * 503-434-7538
Washington County - Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter * 503-846-7041
Willamette Humane Society * 503-585-5900
A pet mom and surrogate livestock handler for neighbors, Jo Becker is passionate about disaster planning for the entire family, including our nonhuman friends. Learn more about Jo at JoBecker.weebly.com/animals-in-disasters.html.