I love the Fourth of July. I love the picnics and parades, and especially the fireworks.
But I love my pets, too, so I usually stay home.
The oldest of my "pack," 10-year-old Toni, has never handled noise well. I know a thunderstorm is coming minutes before it rolls through, because Toni leaves her bed and jumps onto mine. And there she stays, panting and shivering, until the storm is out of range again and we can all get back to sleep.
The other pets are a little jumpy over the fireworks, but not too bad. I'm sure they all could manage the holiday alone, but even if they were locked up, I know I would spend the evening worrying. And with good reason: Humane groups warn that more pets are lost or killed, injured or panicked on this day than on any other.
Even if your pet is not the nervous type, it is a good idea to think twice before heading out the evening of July 4, or at least to take some precautions. Here are some tips:
* If you know your pet looks for a place to hide and shiver at the neighborhood's first noise, call your vet this morning to see whether your pet is a candidate for tranquilizers. While you are at it, ask if your vet is available for after-hours emergencies, and if not, get the location and phone number of the nearest emergency clinic. You never know if you will need it. One usually calm dog I know jumped through a sliding-glass door after firecrackers went off in the yard behind him. Fortunately, his owners knew where to take him, and he got the prompt care he needed to save his life.
* Make sure all your pets are safely confined and provided with plenty of fresh, cool water (nervous animals drink lots of water). Bring outside pets inside, at least into the garage. Allow your cat no access to the outside, and be sure to leash your dog before you take him out. Frightened dogs have been known to go over -- or even through -- fences that would normally hold them. And cats are often the target of cruel pranksters, some of whom enjoy terrorizing animals with fireworks.
* Prepare for the worst. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar with ID tags. When animal-control agencies are closed, there's no way for your pet to be traced to you unless you have made sure your phone number is also on that collar.
* Know what to do if you lose your pet. Start looking as soon as you discover your pet is missing: Take out an ad, cover your neighborhood with fliers and check with veterinarians, emergency clinics and shelters.
When dealing with shelters, remember that a phone call is not enough. Shelter staff cannot remember every animal in the place, and may not be able to recognize your pet from your description even if they have seen it. It is important to check in person at least every other day.
Beware of those who will seek to take advantage of your loss. An official of the Humane Society of the United States recently noted the spread of a scam that has cost some pet-lovers hundreds of dollars.
The details differ depending on the perpetrator, but in general a pet-lover gets a call from a person claiming to have picked up the pet on the way through town and asking to have money wired to cover the cost of shipping the pet home. The money is picked up, but the pet is never returned. In most cases the caller never had the animal, but was calling lost-pet ads in hopes of tricking someone. Report any suspicious calls to local law enforcement.
With so much to worry about, I feel a lot better staying home. Besides, I caught a fireworks show on Flag Day, so I do not feel particularly left out.
Ms. Spadafori is a licensed pet trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.