Ah, the 4th of July.
It's my least favorite holiday, personally. In Chicago where I used to live, it seemed to be the time for my fellow citizens to get drunk, blow off explosives for five days, and shoot guns into the air. There was one time when I actually felt unsafe walking down a sidewalk. Too many firecrackers too close for comfort. Drunk people throwing them at each other and laughing, and if a stray pedestrian got in the way, well, look out buddy.
As for fireworks...I'm ambivalent. I used to walk from my apartment in Georgetown and sneak up from the river to the Lincoln Memorial, and watch the national fireworks display on the Mall from the steps of the Memorial. The crowds are huge and you're surrounded by the monuments to patriotism. The fireworks rise above the obelisk of the Washington Monument and are mirrored in the reflecting pool. The Capitol building lit up in the distance. From every flagpole the Stars and Stripes flutter proudly in the warm Summer breeze. Bunting is everywhere, and people dress (or paint themselves) in red, white, and blue, and you'll see the occasional Uncle Sam or George Washington or Minuteman or Lady Liberty in the crowd. Arlington Cemetery, resting place of many of the nation's honored war dead, looks down majestically from the hills across the Potomac, above the broad span of Arlington Memorial Bridge. It's magnificent, quite the spectacle, and if you've never been I recommend it at least once in your life.
But it kinda spoiled me for ordinary, garden-variety, small-town fireworks displays, which I could take or leave. I've never really cared for fireworks, don't know why. Even when I was a kid.
Worst thing about the holiday: tortures dogs.
Veterinarians tell of dogs who took refuge in hiding places so tight that they got stuck, who gnawed on door handles, who crashed through windows or raced into traffic—all desperate efforts to escape inexplicable collisions of noise and flashing light. Ernie, a wired-hair pointer, was so terrified by thunderstorms that he would vault fences at his Maryland farm and run in a straight line for miles.
“It’s very serious,” said Dr. Melissa Bain, an associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s a true panic disorder with a complete flight response.”
—Jan Hoffman, writing in the New York Times
Yes, the 4th celebrates the founding of the nation, and that's good. But maybe we could give the rockets' red glare a rest on the days surrounding the 4th?
My Butters is one of those dogs who just wants to be friends. He's socially adept with both humans and other dogs. He wags his tail at the least provocation, has a natural and extremely reliable soft mouth (i.e., never bites down or snaps in anger), and he's gentle, perceptive, and attentive. He suffered from debilitating anxiety as a result of neglect in his youth, which I've worked very hard to help him with. And he's getting much, much better. When he gets anxious it's hard to watch. He really suffers. Why would anyone want to make him miserable and set his progress back? But that's what people do, to him or some other poor blameless canine, every time they set off an M80 to hear it go boom. I don't get the appeal. Could be just me.
This probably sounds more bitter than it is. Not really. I'm sanguine.
I'll concede the day of the 4th. Lots of people like July 4th, and they love setting off firecrackers and bottle rockets, and they have fond childhood memories of fireworks, and those good folks deserve their fun and who am I to say? So good for them then.
But I wish they'd go easier on the dogs on July 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th. As any dog owner will tell you, they're people too. In my next lifetime I'll start a populist movement: "Keep the 4th on the 4th"...to be kind to the animals.
P.S. I'm publishing this now so as not to rain on anyone's parade closer to the 4th.
[ADDENDUM: As if it were a coda to this post, the evening of the day I posted this I heard fireworks going off way up in the hills. First of this year. —MJ]
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Featured Comments from:
Steve L.: "Well, dogs are not people too. They're livestock that some people decide is cool to have in their house. That's the reality of it, although the brainwashed will never see it that way. Dogs shit on people's lawns, they piss on people's lawns. They piss on the sidewalks and stink up the neighborhood. They scare the crap out of many people. And oh yeah, they bark. Add up the dB's the average dog bellows though a neighborhood in a year and the noise and annoyance factor far outweighs an annual weekend of fireworks. It would be really nice if people who want to keep an animal chose something that didn't annoy, and sometimes frighten, their fellow humans. Dogs ain't it. All IMHO of course."
Mike replies: Sounds kinda hateful, Steve, but I do see your point. So rejoice—the coming holiday is when you get revenge. Silver lining to every dark cloud and all that.
Daniel replies to Steve L.: "They also keep coyotes and foxes, weasels and mink away from the chicken coop, sheep, and cows. They live in peace with the cats and animals we keep and raise. They bite hell out of 'midnight riders' stupid enough to stop and try to siphon gas from the machinery or take items from the farmyard or barn. They warn of someone coming into the drive before we know they are there. They are very protective and go after those who would raise an arm to strike a member of the family. We feed, water, groom, treat for flea and ticks and consider them family. They are inside and protected when temperatures get below zero. You may not like them so you are cordially invited to walk into our barnyard area anytime after dark so they can greet you appropriately. If you are smart you will stay where you have no dogs to bother you and we will both be happy."
Rich: "I'm not a dog guy...but there's something about Butters. Every picture you've posted of him makes me think, 'that's a dog I'd fall in love with.'"
Mike replies: He really is a bit of a movie star, for livestock I mean. He has that effect on lots of people. It's very striking over time. Back in Waukesha I actually ran into people who remembered him from the shelter.
Geoff Wittig: "Like a lot of dumb ideas, fireworks seem to make sense when one is well-lubricated with alcohol. Sober, not so much. You really don't want to see what someone's hand looks like after miscalculating the fuse time on a large, semi-legal explosive device."
Mike adds: As friend-o'-TOP Geoff is a rural general practitioner MD, I think we can assume he speaks as a witness....
Dogman: "Totally agree. A few years ago we were in the midst of a serious drought. It was so dry the local authorities issued a ban on fireworks in most jurisdictions. It was the most pleasant July Fourth in years because our dog did not require sedation. Night before last, someone in the neighborhood got an early start to the holiday fireworks. Our current dog (who is just as sensitive to loud sounds as our previous one) didn't want to go out for her evening potty. Last night we had a small thunderstorm and, after the rain had finished, she balked at going out once again. I'm not looking forward to the coming days."
Carl: "Thanks for this post. As with everything, we humans have to overdo it. I live in the country and the Fourth 'holiday' weekend sounds like a war zone. Once a few years ago I attended the festivities in a neighboring county. As we were leaving in a long line of other cars, you could see frantic deer coming out of the woods and running across the road. So it's not only domestic pets; it's all wildlife, too."
Alex P. Schorsch: "What could be more fun than blowing things up? I've always had dogs and none of my canine family members ever got very worked up over fireworks. I think that people blow these things out of proportion. I remember going to the countryside with an uncle who had bird dogs trained to help in the hunt. I remember how excited they would get when they heard gunfire. Their reaction to a 'bang' was akin to a rush. I wonder how much of modern dogs' stress is a result of anthropomorphization which turns our dogs into wusses."
Eric Brody: "I'm with you Mike. All the dogs I've had over the years have been terrified of fireworks. It often starts a week ahead and goes on for a week after. I'm a military veteran but never understood the glorification of explosives. It's usually by people who've never seen real artillery or been on the receiving end (thankfully I haven't either). If you think about it just a bit, explosives were developed for the sole purpose of tearing human beings apart. Now, with so many vets suffering from PTSD, who needs more fireworks? Yes, it's a tradition but in my opinion, a stupid one. Fireworks and war are both often glorified by those who've suffered from neither."
Darlene: "I will never forget an eight year-old boy I met when I was an education major. He lost his eyes and nose to firecrackers. His mom brought him to the school to participate in a Braille challenge. The boy was angry and the mom was doing her best to keep it all together."
Del Bomberger: "Well, I love dogs and most animals, birds and even reptiles for that matter. I also love fireworks. That said, there are plenty of vets (as in veterans) around for whom the sound of fireworks brings back many unpleasant memories and worse. I had an uncle who lived in a town in the Sandhills of about 200 people for the relative tranquility he required after one of our little world-saving efforts. He had to leave the little town and retire to the even more remote areas around the 4th. Life is indeed complicated."
Bruce Appelbaum: "Back in the late 1980s, I lived in Pakistan in the capital city of Islamabad. The Russians were in Afghanistan and the pre-Taliban were our friends. Since US arms for the Afghan resistance were being funneled through Pakistan, and the border was fairly porous, there were regular terror bombings of civilian locations (markets, etc.) throughout Pakistan.
"I lived near a market and on multiple occasions car bombs went off fairly close to my house. My dog Babe (adopted as a stray) was badly traumatized, both by the noise and the vibration through the floor—the house was built on a a concrete slab on the ground. She panicked because of local fireworks after we came back to the States. And it took many years for me to fight the urge to hit the deck when particularly loud fireworks went off."