Fireworks: An answer?

It’s a tricky time of year for anyone with a dog who doesn’t like fireworks. Actually, that doesn’t quite cover it.  Fireworks are tricky at any time of year for dogs who don’t like them, but November is an especially difficult time.

We see countless videos and photos of dogs quaking with fear around Bonfire Night, their world going topsy turvy from the strange loud sounds and lights.  Owners beside themselves with fury because they can do nothing about it.

We are flooded with advice:

  • Walks during the daytime to wear them out
  • Create a safe space/den
  • Thunder shirts or swaddling to calm them
  • Herbal remedies and calming tablets
  • Turn TV/radio up, close curtains
  • Train them to get used to the sounds with desensitisation CDs/videos online.

But for some, none of the above works. Here’s Chuck’s story:

As a young puppy, maybe only a few months old, someone set of a string of enormous fireworks in the early evening in our suburban neighbourhood right above our garden in January 2014 as he was outside having a wee.  January. Not New Years Eve, not Diwali, not Bonfire Night.  Just a random week night in January.  We couldn’t possibly have prepared for that.  We had previously got through New Year’s Eve without a problem, he had even learned to walk outside with the distant popping of the local displays in the air without a problem.

He completely freaked out and lost it.  And he never ever forgot that one random event.

He’s a clever little dog.  He knows the difference between real fireworks and those on TV or the radio.  You can put on a youtube video of a fireworks factory explosion and he won’t bat an eyelid.  He will happily walk around fields with gun shots going off without a care in the world.  Light a real firework anywhere near him, and he sees red.

Dogs have a fight/flight instinct, and Chuck will immediately resort to ‘fight’.  He’s scared but it manifests itself as rage.  He will hurl himself at the doors trying to get out to them and “stop” them.  He will, unfortunately, bite anyone and anything that gets in his way.  He doesn’t mean it, he’s not trying to hurt us, but his red mist is up, his stress levels have gone beyond the point of sensible reaction.

None of the above suggested “remedies” help him when he’s hit that red zone.  We eventually had to resort to prescribed hard drugs.  We have a 10kg terrier on human-grade Diazepam during fireworks.  In that aforementioned slice of suburbia, you could almost guarantee there would be nightly random fireworks from Diwali all the way through to January.  So would the answer be to permanently drug up the dog for nearly 5 months of a year? That’s no way to live.  That’s not good for his system.

We moved 200 miles north to rural Cumbria, and my first reaction was “thank goodness for fewer fireworks”. Yes, the fireworks are fewer, but they are still there.  We can drug him less.  We know when the local displays are taking place, we drive somewhere even more remote for the duration.

Not everyone has the opportunity to make such a drastic move for the sake of their dog.  Annually, petitions are made to parliament, and the result is always the same “no legislation change, but use common sense, we understand the stress it causes”.

I’m sorry, that’s not enough.  More people are buying fireworks for personal use than they used to.  Ten, twenty years ago, you’d never have the blitz of little displays in local neighbourhoods.  The legislation hasn’t moved in line with the rise in activity in this time, and that’s irresponsible governance.

If one cannot sell alcohol without a licence or temporary events notice for the council, why is this not the same for fireworks? We regulate all sorts of industries, hell they even put a tax on plastic bags but nothing is done for firework sale/supply? If you cannot own a shotgun without a licence, why can you simply walk into a shop and buy fireworks? Can they both not be used as a weapon? Do they both not use explosives?

We don’t need an outright ban, but we do need tighter regulation around their sale and use.  If the general public can easily find out when/where fireworks are taking place, dog owners can plan ahead.  Those with PTSD can plan ahead, livestock owners, horse owners, ANYONE can plan ahead.

Here is our suggestion: 

In the same way which one applies for a Temporary Events Notice or even Planning Permission from their local council, if any individual wishes to purchase fireworks, they need to submit an application (it can be online, it can be fast and easy to complete) to the local council who will award (or not) a Fireworks Notice to that person for whatever event it is for a small appropriate fee.

When an application is submitted from individuals at a private residence, neighbours are automatically notified of the application and have the right to object (like planning, see a theme here?).  In reality, objections would be uncommon, but at least the immediate neighbours are notified of the upcoming event and can plan alternative arrangements.

Only with proof of this Notice can an individual walk into a shop and purchase (with ID) any fireworks.

Records are made public on a register (like Planning notices) so people can see who/when/where.  You can only apply for so many Notices in one calendar year.

Public displays which are advertised and run by local councils are not affected, but smaller organisations such as Rugby Clubs or Schools should submit applications as above, and ensure that such big displays are widely advertised in the local press/media.

All this does, is replicate existing infrastructure and systems, so there would indeed be a cost to maintaining and running the new application process, but not as high as a whole new regime.  It would be covered by the cost of the application fee, so if the level was set right, could even produce funds for local councils who could spend any profit on the local area for the benefit of all its residents.

Of course, policing this system would be a pain, but hopefully this would be managed by the requirement for production of a valid Notice prior to any individual being sold a firework in the first place.

Something must be done. Something MUST be done that benefits everyone, including those who enjoy fireworks.  Perhaps this is the answer.

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