Every year during the first few weeks of July, animal shelters around the country are inundated with new arrivals — dogs that became separated from their families while trying to escape the booming sound of Independence Day fireworks.
On Facebook, several Glen Covers noted that more of their neighbors were submitting pet-related lost-and-found posts than usual. “Just saw another post for a poodle mix found in the Landing [area],” user Davney Rossiter wrote in the Glen Cove Neighbors group. “I hate the 4th just [because] of the excuse for using fireworks. It’s the highest point of the year for lost dogs.”
Media outlets and pet-recovery services around the country say the same thing: July 5 is the busiest day for runaways. Ac-cording to a 2015 infographic from one such service, Pet Amber Alert, between July 4 and 6, about 30 percent more dogs go missing than usual.
Over the past few weeks, Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove has faced an influx of canines. When the Herald Gazette visited the facility recently, it was full to capacity, with 14 impounded dogs. Some were being held in the boarding area, normally reserved for pets whose owners pay to lodge them while they travel. As recently as a few weeks ago, the facility was taking care of eight rescued dogs, according to Kathy Deecken, a kennel manager and dog trainer there.
Glen Cove resident Jackie Comitino, a professional dog trainer and graphic designer for the Herald Gazette, said that one of the main reasons pets flee their homes during fireworks — and thunderstorms — is their “fight or flight” reaction. “As an owner,” she said, “you’re responsible for training your dog to have enough impulse control” to overcome that instinct. And that training has to start well before July Fourth. For a dog, Comitino said, Independence Day fireworks are like the World Series of self-control. “You can’t play in the World Series without practicing.”
For this training to work, she said, it’s not enough to get a dog to simply obey commands. “The magic is in the duration,” Comitino said. If your dog can obey a “stay” command for 20 minutes at a time, it will be less likely to bolt at explosive sounds.
In anticipation of this year’s fireworks, several Facebook users reported feeding their dogs low doses of natural sedatives to help them tolerate the noise of official displays, but expressed annoyance at the unofficial — and illegal — fireworks their neighbors set off. Comitino said that a dog with good self-control should be able to weather both planned and surprise explosions.
For dogs with less self-control, fireworks anxiety can be tempered by drowning out the booms with other noises, said Deecken, like an air-conditioner or fan, or by playing music or the television at high volume.
While there were several runaways that were reunited with their owners through Facebook and Cove Animal Rescue, other owners didn’t want their pets returned. Betty Geiger, president of the facility’s board of directors, said that in the weeks after the holiday, some of the runaways whose owners the shelter contacted said they didn’t want to reclaim their pets. “It’s one thing when they get lost because the fireworks scared them,” Geiger said, “but their humans aren’t picking them up.”
Some pet owners, she explained, don’t think of their animals as family members, and sometimes simply abandon them after being free of pet-related responsibilities for a few days. “The mentality, unfortunately, of our times, is that people just look at everything like it was a disposable phone,” Geiger said.
Employees, volunteers and board members at the shelter are well acquainted with this mentality. Because it’s the only non-kill facility in the area, people who abandon their pets try to get them into Cove Animal Rescue, which takes in rescues only from Glen Cove residents, or dogs that are found within the city limits. It frequently turns down owners from Sea Cliff and Glen Head who want to surrender their dogs. They try to get around the rule, Deecken said, by dumping their pets in the city, sometimes right outside the shelter. If shelter workers believe, based on previous phone conversations with owners, that a dumped dog is from outside the city, by state law they are required to send it to a different shelter.
According to Deecken’s son and fellow shelter worker Jared Rodriguez, Cove Animal Rescue had taken in about five “dumps” in the past month.