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The sights and sounds of fireworks might evoke pleasure in most Americans, but for many people and pets it triggers fear and dread.
For Lawrence resident Laurie White, 40, the past 23 Independence Day celebrations have been less about celebrating and more about managing anxiety.
After a string of debilitating traumas, White was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and complications of the disorder include severe anxiety and an aversion to loud noises.
“I can’t handle setting anything off myself. I can watch, but I’m not lighting it. I have gun-range ear protection that helps me get through watching the display,” White says. “Last year, I wore my ear muffs, and then at one part when it got loud even with the ear protection, I held my husband’s hand really hard until that was over and I just concentrated on breathing.”
Diana Evans’ 14-year-old autistic son has a similar aversion to fireworks.
“He has to sleep with noise-canceling headphones because, even though illegal, neighbors in (our) neighborhood don’t adhere and set them off at all hours,” Evans, of Lawrence, says. “He covers his ears and curls up on the couch. We attend shows, but he wears headphones.”
Sommer Brecheisen, a U.S. Army veteran and dog owner, moved to the country partly to get away from loud fireworks. Her dog Charlie, a hound-mix, is terrified of them: He trembles and hides and remains awake for hours, even though exhausted.
“When I was in the service I knew some people who didn’t like loud noises and didn’t participate in Fourth of July events on base. It wasn’t like total panic, but more like a distinct discomfort at the loud noises,” Brecheisen, of Lawrence, says. “Every dog and person is so different. But, it seems wrong to me to celebrate in a way that brings discomfort to so many. We are celebrating our independence with fireworks from China. It doesn’t really make sense to me anymore.”
Lawrence resident Steve Janisch, owner of Jayhawker Petcare, always has a house full of dogs during the Fourth.
“I’ve never had a dog that was fond of fireworks,” Janisch says. “For me it’s about taking those extra precautions. The whole week, as soon as the fireworks start going off, I don’t let the dogs outside unsupervised. You never know what a dog is capable of when it wants to get away. Certain dogs, if they hear a firework, they are fully capable of hopping a 6-foot fence. You see so many lost dogs on the Fourth of July because of that.”
Dr. Natalee Beck of Gentle Care Animal Hospital says anxiety medicine is available for pets who are high-flight risks for the holiday. She also advises clients to purchase “thunder” shirts or jackets for anxious pets; these items wrap around the animal, providing a calming pressure like a hug. She also suggests crating pets with a blanket over the kennel, or putting them in a laundry room with a washer and drying running so the machine noise can help cancel out the fireworks.
“Sometimes (managing their anxiety) means keeping them in a dark room, or sometimes they like to get under beds. And usually that’s better than having them run around freaking out because they’re going to try to get away from the sound,” Beck says.
Lawrence resident Michelle Wender bought her beagle-mix Milo a thunder jacket to help him cope with his firework anxiety.
“Investing in a thunder jacket helped a lot for my dog,” Wender says. “But, unfortunately, they are very expensive and not accessible to everyone. Beyond that I just have to make sure that I’m home every night for the several weeks surrounding the Fourth, in case there are fireworks being lit off nearby.”
During the days leading to the holiday, Wender has to be diligent in helping Milo manage his anxiety. If she lets up, the consequences can be dire:
“If he is left unattended during fireworks, he will destroy anything he can get to in my apartment out of anxiety,” Wender says.
Fireworks are banned in the Lawrence city limits, but the following are allowed: party poppers, snappers, snakes and glow worms, sparklers, toy caps and toy smoke devices.
The traditional community fireworks show is scheduled for 9:45 p.m. Sunday. The Lawrence Jaycees, who have been conducting the local fireworks show for decades, will launch the fireworks from the University of Kansas Shenk Sports Complex at 23rd and Iowa streets, and the nearby Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive, will host festivities ahead of the fireworks show and serve as a main area for watching the display.