There will be plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” during the July Fourth fireworks celebration in Costa Mesa, Calif., this year. But there won’t be any bone-rattling booms and bangs. That’s because the city is putting on a silent fireworks display – and other cities should, too.
Noisy fireworks aren’t fun for everyone. For many dogs, cats, wildlife and veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, they are terrifying and can even be deadly.
Countless dogs and cats panic at the sound of explosions – their hearing is much more acute than that of humans, after all – and bolt from their homes, sometimes tearing through screens, digging under fences or even crashing through windows.
Animal shelters across the country brace for an influx of lost and injured animals following every July Fourth. Some animals never make it to a shelter and are killed after running into traffic. Others go missing, never to be reunited with their guardians.
Those who remain at home may spend the nights following Independence Day trembling in fear, panting, hiding under beds or couches, or clinging to their guardians, desperate for comfort.
When “bombs” start bursting in air, sensitive wildlife also flee for cover. Birds who are terrorized by fireworks have abandoned their nests – sometimes orphaning their fledglings – and crashed into buildings, power lines and even each other in frantic attempts to escape in the dark. Many have been severely injured or killed.
In the Netherlands, where fireworks are ignited on New Year’s Eve, a team of international researchers used weather radar to track birds and found that tens of thousands of them took flight just as a fireworks display began. They continued flying for 45 minutes – roughly the duration of the show.
The sound of explosions can also be extremely traumatic for veterans who have served our country and are suffering from PTSD. The gunshot-like noises can trigger combat flashbacks, hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts and even suicide.
In 2015, a Georgia veteran who was suffering from the disorder reportedly became so agitated and distressed by fireworks that he ran home and fatally shot himself.
One veteran who served in Somalia and Afghanistan described the feeling this way: “Fireworks for us is like a bomb going off. I want to hit the ground. Take cover. … It sounds and feels like incoming (fire).”
The Fourth of July should be festive, not frightening, and that’s one reason why more cities are modernizing their celebrations by switching to silent fireworks or other dazzling displays such as laser-light shows.
The town of Collecchio in Northern Italy made headlines recently when it passed a law requiring that fireworks be silent, and in Britain, many venues that are close to animal farms, wildlife habitats or residential areas permit only quiet displays.
Silent or quiet fireworks displays can be even more colorful and mesmerizing than noisy ones because the large explosions needed to create the huge booms destroy some of the chemical compounds that create fireworks’ brilliant colors.
Quiet displays often emphasize artistry and choreography and can be timed to accompany music.
If you aren’t lucky enough to live in a quiet-fireworks community, there are still ways to make the holiday less stressful for your animals. Staying with them during fireworks displays, closing blinds and curtains, keeping the lights on, and playing classical music will help keep animals calm and safe.
Special recordings for dogs, such as “Through a Dog’s Ear,” can help, as can a ThunderShirt – a snug, stretchy garment that can alleviate anxiety.
Always keep animals indoors unless they’re on a leash and harness or under constant supervision in a fenced yard, and ensure that they’re microchipped and wearing collars with current identification tags, just in case.
We can also ask our local lawmakers to ban booming pyrotechnics in favor of silent fireworks or other beautiful and peaceful displays that all Americans can enjoy.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.