If you watch TV, you may have seen the ads for ThunderShirt. It’s a sort of sweater designed to soothe frightened dogs and cats through “gentle, constant pressure.” The spots appeared locally during the two Democratic debates on MSNBC — not because pets find the presidential campaign upsetting, but because the Fourth of July is approaching, and that means fireworks.
For pets, this is high season for stress. Detonations going off at all hours for days on end are irritating to humans and even worse for many animals, because their hearing is more acute than ours and because they don’t quite grasp the reason for the noise. If Bowser is cowering under the bed or whimpering in your lap right now, you know what we mean.
The practice of commemorating our nation’s founding with booms and blasts goes way back. John Adams, writing his wife on July 3, 1776, the day before the Declaration of Independence was approved, said the occasion ought to be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
He got his way, and how. Adams might have checked his enthusiasm had he known the variety and volume — in both senses of the word — of celebratory devices that would be available to 21st century Americans. As Fortune magazine reported last year, we spend $1 billion a year to buy 268 million pounds of fireworks. Judging from the injury statistics showing a big bulge every June and July, the stimulus for most of them is the Fourth.
Adams might also have looked askance at starting the cacophony early and continuing it late. In a lot of places, the explosions become aggravatingly common by the end of June and persist until after Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.
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Obviously, lots of Americans like fireworks. But there are plenty of exceptions: dog owners, parents of light-sleeping infants, veterans of combat and violent crime, medical professionals and firefighters. We suspect the group also includes some if not all of the 9,000 or so people who end up in emergency rooms each year after grisly mishaps involving Roman candles, bottle rockets, sparklers and firecrackers.
Wild creatures, too, are panicked by the racket. Bald eaglets have been known to jump out of their nests in terror, with potentially fatal results. Suzanne West, executive director of the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Washington state, noted the paradox in an interview with The Washington Post: “They are this iconic symbol of our nation’s freedom, and they’re the ones that are negatively impacted.”
Though we’re reluctant to quarrel with John Adams, we also don’t want to get of the wrong side of the national bird. The grand tradition of fireworks certainly deserves a place in this week’s celebration, but you can have too much of a good thing.
In light of all the injuries, distress and lost sleep they can cause, we have two suggestions: 1) Leave the fireworks to professionals, and 2) If you don’t leave them to professionals, limit them to the actual Fourth. That way, we figure, John Adams and the eagles will both rest easy. And you can save the ThunderShirt for a thunderstorm.