LOS ANGELES -- Liberty is loud and a lot of dogs have problems with those Fourth of July sounds of freedom, Erika Gamez said. She should know -- she takes care of over 150 at work and five at home.
On Thursday, the 150 dogs, 150 cats and all the other creatures at the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Care and Adoption Center will be moved inside the buildings, said Gamez, the Southern California shelter's animal care supervisor. Classical music will be played throughout the center in the early evening to soothe animals that have sensitive hearing and can't tolerate loud noise.
Once the booming starts, it gets noisy inside with a cacophony of barking, whining and crying as some dogs panic about the fireworks and others freak out because of their spooked shelter mates. The cats don't seem to mind fireworks, but get stressed at all the commotion. "It's a trickle-down effect," Gamez said.
Similar scenes will play out in homes, backyards and public parks across the country, leading some anxious hounds to fly the coop, which explains why more lost dogs are turned in to shelters on July 5 than any other day of the year. Dogs that can't escape could hurt themselves in other ways trying to seek shelter from the thundering sounds that could last days as fireworks are launched throughout the weekend.
In Rancho Cucamonga, employees will handle 20 to 30 more dogs than usual that day, Gamez said. She has scheduled extra employees.
Because July 4 is on a Thursday this year, fireworks shows will be spread over three nights. Add fireworks bought from booths in many cities across the country and it promises to be a long, booming weekend.
Dogs have more sensitive ears than humans do and while some dogs don't appear to mind the noise, others will bark, whine, howl, hide, cower or run into furniture and walls, said Dr. Melissa Bain of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine's Clinical Animal Behavior Service.
When she was an animal control officer, Dr. Kate F. Hurley, now director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at Davis' Center for Companion Animal Health, said she saw dogs jump through plate glass windows when fireworks went off. She handled other dogs that jumped fences, slipped leashes and broke through doors.
No one can explain why one dog will hide and another will bolt, Bain said.
Gamez and her crew get a lot of practice with fireworks in Rancho Cucamonga. The center, 45 miles east of Los Angeles, is on the same grounds as LoanMart Field, home to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball farm team. Saturday night home games end with fireworks shows.
At the shelter, field officers will be stopping by from time to time to make sure all is well.
Experts say you can prevent a personal doggie drama from becoming a tragedy by taking some simple steps:
• Take a walk and wear your dog out before sundown.
• Plan on staying home with your pet when fireworks shows are scheduled nearby.
• Close the doors and windows, turn on the television, music, fans and any other noisy devices to try and drown out the noise and percussion of the explosions.
• Just sit with the dog. Don't force cuddling because fear can turn some animals aggressive. Have treats available but most dogs won't eat through fireworks.
• Leaving a dog in a crate or cage may not protect it. Dogs can chip their teeth and break their nails on cages.
• If a pet doesn't have a microchip or an ID tag with updated information, get that before the fireworks start.
Gamez plans to spend July 4 on the floor of her Fontana home with her five dogs, lots of familiar noise in the background, their favorite toys all around and a bag of special dog treats in her lap, she said. Fireworks are legal in Fontana so she expects noise for the next couple of weeks.
If a dog does get lost, owners should check shelters for 60 miles around, said Janet Winikoff, director of education for the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County in Vero Beach, Fla. When truly scared, dogs can travel miles, she explained.
Make use of social media to find lost pets, she added.
If all else fails, "your dog might be better off on medication," Bain said.
"When I was in private practice, a lot of people wanted tranquilizers," said Dr. Michele Toomoth, the shelter vet in Rancho Cucamonga. Back then, she would prescribe Acepromazine, a sedative made just for dogs. She stopped when she learned how it worked.
"If you give a dog a sedative, it can't move but it's still freaked out," Bain explained. It's like going through surgery with your brain awake and your nerve endings working, but you can't move, Toomoth explained.
Today, they don't sedate dogs at the shelter and Bain won't give a dog anything but a true anti-anxiety drug like Xanax or Valium. Dog owners will have to talk to their vets about side effects, she said, but they are minimal. "There are lots of people on these medications and they function just fine," she said.