Every year the week surrounding Guy Fawkes night causes anxiety for pets around the country. While some animals cope reasonably well with this period of banging, flashing and squealing fireworks, many become terrified and stressed.
Cats have been known to go missing for days afterwards and dogs have reportedly leaped through glass windows in panic, or blindly rushed across roads in front of traffic trying to escape the noise. On the city fringe, horses and deer have run through fences and suffered serious injury. And then there are the horrifying reports of deliberate injury to pets and wildlife through the malicious and cruel use of fireworks.
While the sale of fireworks is limited to a four-day period, there are no restrictions on where or when you can let them off, which means weeks of stress for some animals. In many other countries, private firework sales are banned completely, and public firework displays are strictly controlled and restricted to areas where they can do no harm.
This is the case in most states in Australia. Even in the UK, where the tradition of Guy Fawkes originated, the government is under pressure to limit the noise level of fireworks, lowering the current acceptable level of 120 decibels to 95. Animals have more sensitive hearing than we do, and exploding and screaming fireworks can reach the equivalent decibels of a jet engine.
Animal welfare organisations in New Zealand, such as the SPCA, have been calling for a ban on the private sales of fireworks and they encourage the public to send a postcard to their local MP calling for a private sales ban on fireworks.
A Macabre Tradition
2005 was the 400th anniversary of Guy Fawkes Night. He was the chap who was caught trying to blow up the Parliament of James I in 1605 and was consequently tortured and executed. The fireworks displays and burning of his effigy have been an annual practice in the UK and some of her former colonies for the past 400+ years. Some say it is time to let Mr Fawkes rest in peace and restrict fireworks to controlled public displays where they cannot harm animals or the community.
Who’s in charge?
Fireworks in New Zealand come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labour and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), which classifies fireworks under the Hazardous Substance and New Organisms (HSNO) Act.
Within the department, the Occupational Safety and Health Service (OSHS) is responsible for enforcing laws over the sale of fireworks, which restricts the sale period to four days from 2 November to 5 November and the age they can be purchased to 18 years and over.
Animal welfare in New Zealand is largely the responsibility of the Animal Welfare Group under Biosecurity NZ. It’s animal welfare complaints hotline is 0800 008 333 Local enforcement of the Animals Welfare Act 1999 is predominantly the responsibility of the SPCA, MAF, and the police.
If you are concerned about the welfare of any animal during the fireworks period, call your local SPCA. There are no laws against letting off fireworks at anytime of the day or night, 24/7. However, if you have a concern about fireworks noise outside of actual Guy Fawkes night, then ring your council noise control number with a complaint.
How you can help your pets
Dogs and cats
Ensure that for at least one week either side of Guy Fawkes night your pets are not left alone or outside at night. Bring them inside as soon as night falls. Provide cats with a litter box and, if necessary, take dogs out to the toilet on a lead.
Keep curtains closed and have the radio or TV on. Make sure pets have access to a cubby hole where they can hide if they wish to.
Animals will generally take cues from their owners. If you are relaxed and ignoring the noise, your pet will usually be less anxious too. Fussing over a pet that is trembling or hiding will only serve to reinforce its anxiety. Instead, try to ignore fearful behaviour and pat and praise your pet when it remains calm.
If an animal is desperate for attention and reassurance, allowing it to sit on your knee or just sit beside you. Give a reassuring hug, but don’t use any verbal reassurance that could be interpreted as praise.
If fireworks trigger a panic attack in your pet, medication may help it cope. See your veterinarian for advice.
It’s possible to desensitise dogs to some of the noises associated with exploding fireworks. However, this is a long-term programme that should be done under the supervision of a behaviourist.
Dogs that are terrified of fireworks are often also afraid of thunderstorms and may suffer separation anxiety. If your pet fits this category, seek professional help.
Pet owners in the same street, or families/friends might like to organise a central meeting point for fireworks displays, and move pets to a house away from the noise with minders assigned to care for them. Alternatively, organise a neighbourhood or family fireworks gathering at a beach or park.
Horses and livestock
Make sure grazing animals are in the most sheltered part of the property. A stable or barn may be the best option for a nervous horse. The overhead flashes and squeals of fireworks usually cause more distress to livestock than crackers or soft cascading lights. It may be worth asking neighbours not to use fireworks that shoot screamers into the air. Hopefully, people living in rural or semi-rural areas will understand.
Rabbits, guinea pigs and birds
Most birds will remain quietly roosting in trees during fireworks night. However, aviary birds may panic and injure themselves. If possible, cover the aviary with a tarpaulin, or similar, to reduce disturbance.
Rabbits and guinea pigs should be taken inside, or placed in a safe place like a garage in their cages to protect them.