You don't have to look very far to see a news story about how July 5th is the busiest day for animal shelters. The theory goes that fireworks, with their loud popping and banging, scare dogs and many escape due to fear and then come into shelters on the following days. There are certainly no shortage of shelters making this claim.
The usually very thorough Emily Weiss at the ASPCApro has written blogs on consecutive years trying to dispel this as a myth, noting that in their survey of pet owners who had lost their pets, these owners said the 4th of July was not the reason their pet was lost.
I'll preface this with noting that I'm a huge fan of challenging "Common knowledge" that exists in animal welfare circles as many "knowns" seem to be handed down for years with little or no evidence of them being true , including things like the myth about the need for heavy screening for adopters, or only 1 in 600 pit bulls that enters a shelter finds a home, or the ridiculous math about the number of offspring an unaltered cat may produce or black dog syndrome. Many of these are just plain wrong, and often negatively impact animals in our shelters.
However, in speaking with pretty much everyone in the shelter/rescue community, and observing the comments on Dr. Weiss's post, most people aren't going along with Dr. Weiss's assertion that the 4th of July isn't a major concern for shelters.
Last year, I ran numbers for KC Pet Project, and we saw a 15-25% increase in the number of dogs that came into the shelter in the days following the 4th of July.
Kathy Pobloskie of Lost Dogs of Wisconsin noted a roughly 50% increase in lost dog reports during the week of July 2-8.
Susan Taney of Lost Dogs Illinois cited roughly a 30% increase in lost dog reports during that same time period.
This year, Lost Dogs Illinois is reporting a 100% increase in lost dog reports following Independence Day -- from an average of 22 per day for the last 2 weeks of June to 44 per day during the first week of July.
In talking with shelter leaders and lost pets advocates that I know and respect from around the country, it seems that most report similar numbers -- numbers that indicate a pretty substantial increase in lost dogs surrounding the 4th of July Holiday -- usually not escalating to the level of straymagedon, but not inconsequential either.
And even a small increase in intake during the month of July (which is already the busiest month for shelters) is liable to make every additional intake a life or death situation as the high intakes in July have most shelters already busting at the seems with homeless pets.
So what is a shelter to do?
Many good shelters are already doing a great job of taking to their websites, social media and even mainstream media about the importance of keeping pets contained during the "fireworks season" and the importance of having your pet up-to-date with their microchip and tags so in the event they DO get lost, they can be reunited with you quickly. If your organization is not doing this, you should definitely do so in your communities.
Meanwhile, another solution is to start making room in your shelter for the new pets by getting the pets that are there OUT before the 4th. For the 4th year in a row, KC Pet Project has hosted a major adoption event on July 4th to help get dogs OUT, before the new ones come in.
While many shelters close for the holiday, it is a day when most families are off work and have time to spend together -- and will often use the time to find a new pet. This has always been a very good adoption day for us, ranging from at least an average adoption day to our highest adoption day ever. (I think day-of-week of the holiday plays a big role in the success of the event).
So instead of being closed while increased numbers of dogs are being scared into being lost -- KC Pet Project is OPEN -- getting animals out of the shelter to make room.
And getting animals out, can at least reduce a bit of the sting of the animals coming in.
And finally, when you get lost pets in - -assume they are LOST and not stray. Take pictures, post them online and in social media and work to get them reunited with owners. It's the fastest, and best, way to get them out of the shelter.
What is your organization doing to help diffuse 4th of July intakes?