Pet owners are gearing up for a stressful time for both themselves and their animals as fireworks season begins.
With bonfire night and Diwali in October and November, followed not long afterwards by New Year’s Eve, there is little respite from the bangs and vibrations that can have devastating effects on animals.
People suffer as well as pets, Julie Doorne from Firework Campaign UK told Sky News.
Pet owners will avoid leaving their animals at home alone for months on end, or use up annual leave to take them away.
“People’s lives change” due to fireworks, she said.
The campaign wants an end to private fireworks. Ms Doorne says they’re not trying to cancel Bonfire Night or any other celebrations – but they want displays licenced and kept a certain distance from animals.
‘I will never see her again’
Liberty, an 18-year-old from Winterbourne, has recently lost her horse Jade due to fireworks.
Jade was Liberty’s therapy horse, who helped her with anxiety, and was a gift from her friend Emma.
“Jade taught me everything. My first canter, my first gallop, she gave me the confidence in everything,” Liberty said.
“She knew when I was upset. If she heard me cry she would stand over me. When I was feeling down she would nudge me. She knew when I was at my lowest.”
In October, Jade got spooked by a firework that was let off near the field she was in.
She ran and hurt her back legs in the process. Despite Liberty trying to get her up, it was clear she wasn’t going to.
“She tried but she didn’t have the strength and in the end, she gave up,” Liberty said.
Jade had to be put to sleep.
Liberty said: “My heart is ripped apart. She was my best friend and soulmate.
“I will always remember the lowest of my days when she wouldn’t leave my side … I have no words but heartache and tears.”
“I want the whole world to know that Jadey was my life.”
Liberty wants to see a ban on setting off fireworks around livestock.
Jade would have “been here today if it wasn’t for the firework,” Liberty said.
“I will never see her again.”
‘Driving to the middle of the New Forest for quiet’
Rosemary, from Hampshire, has a 10-year-old horse called Rolo – and Nala, an 11-year-old working cocker spaniel.
To prepare Rolo for the fireworks, Rosemary plans to put boots on him to stop him from kicking himself and keep him in his stable.
This is the first fireworks season she’s experienced with Rolo, so she plans to “take a leap of faith” and hope he copes well.
But Nala gets very distressed.
“She barks to the point that one New Year’s Eve I drove out to the middle of the New Forest to get her as far away from the noise as possible,” Rosemary said.
She added she is forced to change her routine when she knows there may be fireworks.
“I can’t leave her on the weekend of Bonfire Night. I will always be making a decision on ‘If we go out, can I take her?’ – but we have to endure it when it’s unexpected.”
‘We’re worried the stress will shorten her life’
Matt Wilke, 36, from northwest London, has a Boston terrier called Nelly, and two cats, Pixie and Poppy.
All three are rescues from South Africa, and he said the journey to bring them to the UK during the pandemic was nowhere near as stressful as fireworks are for them.
“Pixie becomes incredibly skittish and just about hyperventilates. It is absolutely horrible seeing a cat having what looks like an asthma attack and being very frightened,” he explained.
Poppy does her best to try to hide, which is worrying because “she tries squeezing herself into the smallest of spaces and we’re always so worried she will hurt herself”.
Mike also worries Poppy will “get stuck somewhere or – in a panic to find somewhere – get out and run without any idea of where she’s trying to go”.
Nelly becomes very needy, constantly vigilant and frightened of going outside.
Matt said the effects on Nelly can last for days after the fireworks have stopped.
“This undue stress simply isn’t good for her and we’re constantly worried that the stress, especially as she gets older, could shorten her life.”
Pip, an elderly dog with a fragile heart
Jane has an elderly dog called Pip.
Pip “has been petrified of fireworks all his life”, she said.
Jane added: “Every year we spend about two weeks around bonfire night unable to sleep until late as he needs comforting because he gets so worked up and frightened when he hears them going off.
“We are dreading this year as he now has a heart condition which means he collapses if he gets highly stressed or excited.
“So we feel we have no alternative but to drive us all out into the country for a few hours to get away from the relentless sound of bombs going off.
“If we don’t I fear he will have a heart attack.”
Could Australian-style ban work in the UK?
Dog owner Jane Price recalled stressful bonfire nights with her Cairn terrier Messi.
“He would bark and get very upset,” she said.
“He wouldn’t even go outside, he was worried there was going to be another bang.”
Ms Price is originally from Australia, where there’s a ban on members of the public buying fireworks.
There’s merit to that rule, she said.
In the UK, fireworks can be sold between 15 October and 10 November for Bonfire Night and from 26 to 31 December for New Year celebrations.
They can also be sold in the three days leading up to Chinese New Year and Diwali.
But many pet owners would welcome Australian-style restrictions in the UK.
‘It’s really difficult to calm and console’
Another concerned animal lover – Di – told Sky News her border collie cross, Cody, is “absolutely terrified” of fireworks.
“This appears to be getting worse as she grows older,” Di said.
She added: “Her reaction to them is to bark continuously, pant and pace and it is really difficult to calm and console her.
“This reaction can continue for a good while after the fireworks have subsided.”
Vet says fireworks ‘totally cruel’ to animals
The run-up to bonfire night and New Year’s Eve sees a surge of people seeking sedatives for their pets, a north London vet told Sky News.
“One month before firework night, people are coming in one after the other to get calming remedies for their pets,” she says.
Fireworks displays are “totally cruel” to animals, who have “very sensitive hearing”, she added.
“They’re put under stress and anxiety that can sometimes cause illnesses like alopecia from over-grooming themselves due to stress.”
About 14 million people in the UK attend organised firework displays each year, according to the British Pyrotechnics Association – but that number does not include fireworks set off in private gardens and fields across the country.
These displays are the real problem, according to some pet owners.
Call for organised fireworks events only
Sophie Gannon’s dog Barclay is “petrified by the noise” and “shakes” on hearing fireworks.
“I don’t think they should sell fireworks at all. I think it should just be organised events only,” she tells Sky News.
The RSPCA receives about 400 calls from concerned pet owners every bonfire night, and in 2019 launched its Bang Out Of Order campaign, calling for changes to firework laws.
It wants the sale of fireworks restricted to between 29 October and 5 November and a reduction of the maximum noise level of fireworks from 120 decibels to 90 decibels.
The animal charity has also called for the implementation of firework control zones, prohibiting fireworks near animal habitats, farms and zoos.
The charity’s research shows 73% of adults polled think firework control zones should be introduced and 75% think the firework sale period should be limited.
What are the rules as they stand?
The Animal Welfare Act does not extend to protecting animals from the effects of fireworks.
While it prohibits “any unnecessary suffering to a captive or domestic animal”, if fireworks are let off legally, their use would not be considered unreasonable.
Scotland’s fireworks laws changed in June, giving councils the power to designate Firework Control Zones where it would be illegal to set off fireworks. The impact on animals is one reason why a council could grant a control zone.
In Northern Ireland, anyone who wants to buy, possess, and use fireworks (except indoor fireworks and sparklers) must have a valid fireworks licence.
In 2019, the House of Commons petition committee published a report on fireworks after more than 750,000 people signed a petition demanding a change to the laws.
In response, the government agreed to coordinate a major public awareness campaign, but stopped short of accepting recommendations – including introducing decibel limits and empowering local councils to enforce firework permits.
Another petition calling for tougher regulations gained more than 15,000 signatures in advance of this year’s Bonfire Night.
The government responded by saying it has “no plans to ban the sale of fireworks to the public but continues to monitor the situation”.
A government spokesperson added: “We believe the majority of individuals use fireworks safely and appropriately.
“The government understands that people want to enjoy fireworks. We believe that the legislative framework controlling fireworks strikes the right balance and we have no plans to replace it at this time.”