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Fireworks And Record-Setting Heat Are Stressing Pets And Filling Animal Shelters

photos of dogs at Idaho Humane Society
Idaho Humane Society
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Idaho Human Society Facebook
"We're having a lot of incidents every single day. In fact, we're having to put off other calls because we have so many of these priority heat calls."

As a historic heat wave rolls across Idaho this holiday week with temperatures spiking above the century mark, animal caregivers remind us that our pets are depending on us for protection. That, coupled with fireworks, can terrify our pets — dogs in particular.

“This is unfortunately a holiday that few people working in animal shelters look forward to because, of course, fireworks drive especially dogs, just bonkers,” said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, veterinarian and CEO of the Idaho Humane Society.

“Our shelter will undoubtedly fill on Fourth of July and the days leading up to Fourth of July because, of course, people start shooting off fireworks early," he said.

Rosenthal visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how the 4th of July is the least favorite holiday with shelter workers.

“Our humane officers are incredibly busy, I think more than any time in my career, with just going out, responding to calls of dogs overheating in cars.”
Dr. Jeff Rosenthal

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Triple digit heat and fireworks: yes, a lot of people love them, but they do pose a threat to some of our best friends. Dr. Jeff Rosenthal is here… veterinarian of more than two decades and CEO of the largest and oldest animal protection organization in Idaho. And, of course, that's the Idaho Humane Society. Dr. Rosenthal. Good morning.

DR. JEFF ROSENTHAL: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: For the record, I would like to note that to get Dr. Rosenthal to stand still for a few minutes is a rare opportunity because here is a man who is needed morning, noon and night. I want to get to the weather in a moment, but if my memory serves me right… about the Fourth of July and the shooting of fireworks… if I recall, animal shelters get quite full.

photo of Dr. Jeff Rosenthal of Idaho Humane Society
Idaho Humane Society
Dr. Jeff Rosenthal is CEO of the Idaho Humane Society

ROSENTHAL: This is unfortunately a holiday that few people working in animal shelters look forward to because, of course, fireworks drive especially dogs, just bonkers. And a lot of pet owners also don't look forward to this holiday just because of what the fireworks do to their pets. So a little bit of preventive care is important. Certainly, you want to be home, if possible, with your dog. If your dog is really sensitive to the fireworks, you've got to make sure that your fences are secure. And for a lot of folks, a visit to the veterinarian to, perhaps get a preemptive tranquilizer is unfortunately in order.

PRENTICE: And it might be a good opportunity to talk about getting more pets chipped.

ROSENTHAL: So, our shelter will undoubtedly fill on Fourth of July and the days leading up to Fourth of July because, of course, people start shooting off fireworks early. And it's important for us, especially this time of year, to get pets back to their owners as quickly as possible. And so micro chipping is one of the most effective ways we have. But then, the obvious and unfortunately although it's obvious, very frequently we have dogs come through the door that have no collar, no tags. Simplest way to get your pet home is a collar with tags.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about the heat. This rather extraordinary early, intense heat.

ROSENTHAL: Yeah, this is terrible this year. And our humane officers are incredibly busy, I think, more than any time in my career with just going out, responding to calls of dogs overheating in cars or having to break into cars. We're having a lot of incidents every single day. In fact, we're having to put off other calls because we have so many of these priority heat calls. So, it's really imperative… you've got to leave your dog at home. You just cannot stop at the store. You can't stop and do something else and leave your dog in the car. Minutes count, and we've already seen some tragedies this year,

PRENTICE: The paws of our pets…when they are irritated and/or burned by sidewalks… as an owner, what can I do if I've noticed at least irritation, and maybe even a burn on the paws?

logo of Idaho Humane Society
Idaho Humane Society
The Idaho Humane Society is Idaho's largest and oldest animal protection organization.

ROSENTHAL: Cool water first, if you catch it in time. Sometimes we do have to bandage those paws while they recover if they're burned that severely. Most of the time it's not that bad. But again, another preventative thing… I noticed the other day, folks parking along the river in a parking lot in the in the sun and the tarmac was just blazing hot. And I could see the dogs dancing around on the leashes and folks not being aware. You’ve got to… this time of year is all about awareness and being careful. It's all predictable. And so, keeping your pets off of the hot pavement during this time of year is is the obvious

PRENTICE: As we come out of the pandemic - and I know a lot of people got so-called pandemic pets - are you seeing any interesting trends?

ROSENTHAL: There was a huge concern that all of a sudden shelters that had been so successful at placing pets during this otherwise terrible period…there was the amazing success of adopting out dogs and cats. During this time, we were worried that there would be an influx of pets once folks started going back to work. And we're not seeing that and we're seeing adoption rates maintained and we're not seeing high numbers of returns. We are seeing some folks reach out and say, “Hey, my dog is suffering some separation anxiety that I wasn't aware of because now I'm in the office eight hours a day instead of at home.” And so our behavioral folks are helping out with that. And so that's an issue. But thankfully, we have placed pets in homes and they're staying in homes.

PRENTICE: The City of Boise recently agreed to a significantly revised animal code. Are you a fan?

ROSENTHAL: Yes, this was a step forward. Admittedly, cities and counties are limited in what they do by state statutes as well. So, there's only so far you can go. But this was a comprehensive rewrite of the code. We were involved with it from the beginning and had input. And for the most part, we're very pleased with what we were able to accomplish here locally.

PRENTICE: Is it fair to say that a number of other communities might be looking at this, and it might trigger some action elsewhere?

ROSENTHAL: Yes, indeed. We have heard a lot of folks in other communities saying, “Hey, we're going to take some of these ideas to our city councils as well.” Again, we couldn't really do much in terms of increasing penalties for things like animal cruelty and neglect. But we did a good job of making the code more specific and easier to enforce and prosecute… and perhaps state law again. And also, in terms of things like dogs in hot cars: that specificity helps us on the enforcement end. We don't have to necessarily go into court and prove that keeping a dog in a hot car and allowing it to succumb to heat stroke is cruelty. It's just there already. It makes prosecution easier. Other things that were in the code that are big improvements: the tethering restrictions and the prohibition on some of the exotic animal acts that used to come to town. I think these are all important steps in the right direction.

PRENTICE: Dr. Rosenthal, I've heard… and I just don't know if there's any science to this… but I have heard for most of my life of folks who leave the radio on, or some music on, for their pets. Is there something to that?

ROSENTHAL: There can be some dogs, and maybe even cats are soothed, for instance, by music. And they even have specific types of music that are sometimes marketed for pets. I don't know if that's true or not, but there's also different techniques. There's something called a thundershirt that can help soothe some dogs that they feel sort of more comfortable if they're swaddled. There are some pheromone treatments you can actually get for cats that decreases stress. So, all of these have some evidence in a lot of unknowns.

PRENTICE: He is Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, one of the busiest men in Idaho, CEO of the Idaho Humane Society. Have a happy holiday. I do wish and hope that the shelter will not be as busy as we fear. All that said, we're awfully grateful that your colleagues are on the job and will be there for all of us and our best friends this holiday. Thanks so much.

ROSENTHAL: Thanks for having me.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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