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Opinion | Margery Eagan

Bombs away! The Fourth is no holiday for dogs

A fireworks display at NARA Park in Acton.
A fireworks display at NARA Park in Acton. Town of Acton

THIS IS A PLEA to all Massachusetts pyromaniacs on our nation’s birthday: Make America Great Again — for dogs!

How? By limiting your illegal fireworks to July Fourth itself, the day before, and maybe the day after, if you really, really must.

But please don’t keep blasting them – bam! boom!! BOOM!!! – for weeks. They cause nervous breakdowns for poor Fido and dogs like him, particularly herder dogs like my own — Harry the Peanut, or “Harry the P, Best Dog from Sea to Sea.” He’s an 11-pounder who just can’t take these sonic-boom assaults.

Fireworks turn 40 percent of dogs into canine jackhammers. Panting, drooling, cowering, racing in circles.

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“We had one go off in our neighborhood that sounded like a bomb. My husband called police,” said Dr. Terri Bright, director of Behavior Services at MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center.

“There’s more and more every year,” says Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans, owner of the late Pepper, a 15-year-old black Lab, and now five-year-old Callie, a rescue Pyrenees mix. Conditioned by years of Logan-bound 747s rattling and shaking everything in their South Boston home, the Evanses’ dogs learned to cope with fireworks.

“But I don’t look forward to the Fourth,” he says. “On the street, nobody can tell if it’s gunshots or fireworks.”

For years “Ask Dog Lady” columnist Monica Collins has fielded fireworks queries. If you and your very jittery dog live close to the huge Esplanade fireworks, she says, “You might even head out of town.”

For dogs, says Angell’s Bright, massive booms can be “absolutely terrifying. It’s fight or flight. Their respiration rate increases. Some will try to escape whatever space they’re in.”

So keep your dog inside on the Fourth, she said, away from windows, with shades down. If you put him in his crate, don’t close its door. Do turn on white noise and lots of fans. If the dog will eat, try distracting him with meaty bones or toys stuffed with delectables. If the dog wants to make a cozy cave in the closet, let him. If he wants to cuddle, do that too.

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Says Bright, “We have this fantasy of a town in New England with noiseless fireworks and dog-friendly hotels and we could just fill the place right up.”

In fact they’ve already gone noiseless in parts of Britain and Europe, worried not just about panicked dogs but also panicked kids, livestock, and wildlife, including birds. In 2011, 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell to earth in Beebe, Ark., after a fireworks display.

More dogs run away on the Fourth of July than any other day, and shelters report a 30-to-60 percent increase in runaways.

Yet we’re ever-bigger fireworks addicts. Excluding public displays like our annual Esplanade extravaganza, Americans went through 102 million pounds of private-use fireworks in 2000. Last year, it was 229 million pounds, reports the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Of course, it’s true that fretting dog owners like me can get to the vet for doggie tranquilizers. I’ve done it every year. One minute Harry the P, Best Dog from Sea to Sea, is trotting about the house. The next, his little legs splay out from underneath him. He’s but a mophead on the floor, gonzo.

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But I can’t keep him doped up for a week. I shouldn’t have to.

So you may not care about your neighbors, or like them much either. But when you can’t resist exploding that M-80 days and weeks after the Fourth, stop and think about what you’re doing to your neighbor’s trusting, tail-wagging little dog, and save that nasty explosive till next year.


Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”