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Fireworks don't always mix with vets and pets

Experts say be kind before lighting that fuse

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Before igniting that illegal bottle rocket this Fourth of July weekend, you might consider more than just the fact it’s illegal.

While authorities say that if you’re caught in the act, you’re likely to receiving nothing more than a slap on the wrist, the impact may be far greater on someone else nearby.

Read more: Iowa Fireworks law may be 'silly,' but it's still the law

Experts say the Fourth of July is a particularly daunting time for two groups — vets and pets.

 

FIREWORKS AND VETERANS

Fireworks can trigger an exaggerated startle response — a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder — for military veterans, said psychiatrist Naomi Bloom of the Coralville Veterans Affairs Clinic. This may lead to a flashback, leading them to believe they’re back in combat rather than at the park with their family, she explained.

Jeff Alden, an Iraq War veteran with PTSD and a psychiatrist at the VA clinic, said working in a combat zone “remodels your brain” to rely on animal instincts. You have to react quickly to stay alive on the battlefield. It can be hard to let that mind-set go, he said.

When Alden hears fireworks he sometimes begins to pace, he said. He’ll hide in his basement and turn up music loud enough to drown out the explosions, but it can be difficult for him to “turn down the volume of adrenaline bounding through (him),” he added.

Others might try ear buds or taking a sleeping pill to avoid the stress altogether, Bloom said.

“The kindest thing you can do is assume there are people who are going to have symptoms triggered by loud noises,” she added, recommending everyone reach out to their neighbor to give them warning before lighting that firecracker.

 

FIREWORKS AND PETS

Fireworks can also make animals afraid and anxious. Although there are a few products on the market — like pheromone collars and diffusers or thunder jackets for dogs — the best thing to do if fireworks are exploding is maintain a positive and happy attitude around them.

“They really pick up on our emotions,” said Sarah Hickey, an Edgewood Animal Hospital Veterinarian. She warned never to use a pity voice or to hug or cuddle your pet when they’re upset. This only reinforces negative behavior.

If you’re a dog owner, you can try to make fireworks a positive experience by giving them treats or praising them near fireworks — this might “take some of the mystery out of it,” she said. But she warned owners to keep a safe distance.

Cats are not as easily trainable as dogs and when they are anxious they prefer to go to a place where they feel safe, such as a bathroom. Hickey said it’s best to leave them alone.

The worst thing you can do is introduce your pet into an unknown setting if you don’t know how they’re going to act, she said.

“The last thing you want to do is bring them out of the house into a huge group of people with loud booms,” she said, recommending pet owners leave their faithful friend at home wearing identification tags in the event they do manage to escape.

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