July 2, 2016
Fourth Of July Fireworks And Pets -- Are Silent Fireworks The Answer?

Fourth of July fireworks are a beloved part of Independence Day celebrations for most Americans, but not their pets, many of whom are terrified by the flashes of light and explosive sounds. An innovation in fireworks technology has produced "silent" fireworks in use in parts of Italy and the U.K. – is it time for the U.S. to join them?

Fourth of July, pets and fireworks

Fireworks are popular because they dazzle the eye and the ear with sound, flashes of light, and color. Those very reasons, however, are what make them so scary to many cats and dogs. Dr. Kelly Ryan of the Missouri Humane Society explains in an interview with CBS St. Louis.

"Dogs and cats are so much more sensitive to those loud noises than people are. It can make them extremely nervous."

The fear and stress also cause physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Dr. Ryan, like most other vets, advises leaving pets indoors on occasions like the Fourth of July. Outside, even at a distance away from the fireworks site, the sound may trigger stress and fear and the first instinct is often to run away, leading potentially to lost pets. Pet shelters see more runaway dogs after July 4 than at any other time of the year.

Wild animals also react badly to the explosive noise of traditional fireworks. A story in the New York Times cites an incident in 2011 in Arkansas where about 5,000 red-winged blackbirds literally fell out of the sky after New Year's Eve fireworks.

Veterans and fireworks

Turning down the volume on fireworks would not only benefit cats and dogs. The sounds produced by standard fireworks can reach above 150 decibels, far above the 120 decibel threshold recommended by the World Health Organization.

Many Americans use the opportunity to honor veterans, but loud, explosive fireworks like those typically used on the Fourth of July are also problematic for veterans with PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. Many veterans with PTSD are extremely sensitive to noise and can be triggered by the explosive and smell of gun powder of standard fireworks. Shawn Gourley, executive director of Military with PTSD, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans with the disorder, is quoted in Washington's Top News.

"The flashing lights, the loud bangs and even the fire crackers can sound like gun fire, it can sound like bombs."

Quiet fireworks

So-called "silent" fireworks are more accurately described as quiet fireworks and they are used in parts of Europe. In many areas in Great Britain, quiet fireworks must be used by law in venues that are adjacent to places where people live, livestock is housed, or even next to areas rich in wildlife. In Collecchio, Italy, it has been law since 2015 that all fireworks displays must use the quiet variety.

Quiet fireworks rely on the use of color and a choreographic release, rather than the explosive power of gun powder to launch the display into the air. The less explosive version of fireworks were developed specifically with sensitive children along with pets, veterans and wildlife in mind.

As reported in the New York Times, the idea is hardly new. A company called Fantastic Fireworks of England has been selling quiet fireworks for three decades. They have long been used to enhance traditional fireworks displays, but are only recently being developed to be used as a standalone event.

While the displays aren't as far reaching and would not be suitable for very large crowds, quiet fireworks do offer more color. In traditional fireworks, the more powerful the explosion, the more color material is lost.

The idea has yet to catch on in the United States, where quiet fireworks would make Fourth of July celebrations more pet- and veteran-friendly.

[Image by Katjen/Shutterstock]