For animals, fireworks are frightening and sometimes even fatal.
Last Fourth of July was a very late night at our house. Neighbors set off firecrackers into the wee hours of the morning - and every snap, crackle and pop set off my dog, Pete. He barked madly, determined to protect his family from what must have seemed like a war raging outside.
We humans were grouchy from having our slumber interrupted, but the animals suffered much more.
Pete was inconsolable, and our cats, Digit and Lucy, crouched wide-eyed under the couch, like refugees in a bomb shelter.
I once "oohed" and "ahhed" over fireworks, but that was before I knew how our annual celebrations of freedom wreak havoc on other species. For animals, Fourth of July fireworks aren't festive - they're frightening and sometimes even fatal.
Animals' ears are far more sensitive than ours. Deafening blasts can cause them intense pain and even damage their hearing.
The endless bangs and booms cause many dogs and cats to panic and jump over backyard fences, slip out of their collars, break free from their chains, dig out of yards, tear through screened windows or doors and even crash through picture windows in a frantic attempt to escape the explosions.
In the days and weeks following July 4, many animal shelters report a surge of stray dogs and cats. Some of these animals arrive with bloody paws and cuts from their desperate escapes. Many animals never make it to shelters and instead are hit by cars and crippled or killed - or are lost, never to be seen again by their guardians.
Taking animals along to a public fireworks show is just as dangerous and traumatic as leaving them home alone. Last year, New York City firefighters had to pull a dog named Blue from the East River after she plunged off a pier during a booming fireworks display.
Wildlife suffer and die during fireworks, too. The smoke plumes can damage birds' sensitive respiratory systems, and fireworks debris pollutes water where fish and other animals live. Fires started by stray sparks destroy wildlife habitat.
Birds often flee their nests during pyrotechnics displays, sometimes orphaning their fledglings.
The California Coastal Commission banned the city of Gualala's fireworks display after a 2006 show caused nesting seabirds to abandon their chicks.
Some 5,000 red-winged blackbirds and European starlings were killed after someone shot off fireworks in an Arkansas neighborhood on New Year's Eve 2011. Panicked by the explosions, the birds apparently fled their roosts and - disoriented and unable to see in the dark - crashed at high speeds into houses, signs and the ground. Hundreds of birds were killed in similar tragedies in Louisiana and Kentucky.
We can help animals by encouraging our communities to switch from fireworks displays to safe and dazzling alternatives, such as laser light shows, and asking our friends, family and neighbors to consider a fireworks-free Fourth of July.
Those of us with animal companions can help make Independence Day safer and less terrifying for them by keeping them indoors in a quiet room and staying with them until the explosions subside (never leave them outdoors, even for a second).
Closing blinds and curtains, keeping the lights on and playing classical music at a normal volume will help minimize the booms and flashing. It's also important to ensure that all animals wear collars with current identification tags and to have them microchipped, just in case.\
There are plenty of ways to celebrate without traumatizing animals or keeping the neighborhood up all night. Going for a bike ride, having a picnic, watching a movie or hosting a vegetarian backyard barbecue are just a few.
Let's give animals freedom from fear this Fourth of July by having a quiet and cruelty-free celebration. The neighbors will appreciate it, too.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)
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