Fear and loathing of the 4th of July

4th of July fireworks can sound like the end of the world to non-humans. If you have a fraidy-cat or jittery dog, it can be a long and trying holiday for you, too.

It’s predictably busy at animal shelters. In fact, Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter in Hillsboro, OR, stays open July 4th to reunite terrified animals with their people. Animal Services Manager Deborah Wood says the hordes of jittery pets “don’t know if it’s Baghdad or Beaverton.” Busy and scary as it is, she says it’s also an “instant-gratification” kind of day, seeing animals safely tucked in a protective shelter environment until they’re happily reunited with their relieved family.

While panicked pets will get expert care at area shelters, of course they’re much happier and safer at home. When the skies light up and the windows start to rattle, they’ll do best if they can stay with you, “preferably NOT at the fireworks display, or at crazy Uncle Albert’s who has the biggest display west of the Mississippi,” adds Wood.

If you know you have a severely phobic dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian well ahead of time. Sometimes an anti-anxiety medication is your best option. There are excellent and affordable helpers you can try at home, too.

  • Julliard-trained pianist Lisa Spector’s iCalm music recordings take a scientific approach to soothing dogs and cats. You can also try a quiet classical music CD in your home stereo.
  • Pet supply stores have remedies that Wood says “might help/can’t hurt.” These range from herbal and homeopathic medicines to Thunder Shirts — stretchy, form-hugging garments designed to calm. Results can range from Godsend to nil, though, so if you’re trying one for the first time on the 4th, have a backup plan.

In my household, where my rescue Pit Bull Roxy would charge her muscled, bow-legged mass into doors or windows at the sound or fireworks, we’ve found three fixes that keep all of us safe and sane:

  • The Homedics sound machine fills our house with cricket chirps or a babbling brook. See my girls quietly playing while an excavator digs up our backyard in the video here.
  • Thanks to a tip from our trainer Lola, we use the hot-air popcorn popper for white noise and treats in one. I turn this into a game, tossing popcorn around the house to keep them busy.
  • “Cookie game” works for dogs or cats. Toss little treats for them to “fetch” inside the house, or hide treats around the room and turn them loose to search.

Whatever your coping strategy, if the worst happens and you’re missing a dog or cat, visit your nearest shelter right away. Also, if you see stray dogs or cats around the holiday, Wood cautions against assuming they’ve been dumped. They’re most likely to find their way home if you take them to the nearest shelter.

Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.