“If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” That’s how Mark Twain described New England’s fickle weather patterns. For some reason, when I think back to my childhood I don’t remember such drastic change, but I do remember the rains. The thunderstorms. The hurricane watches. During such times, there was only one place you’d find me: under the kitchen table with my dog Noodles.
Noodles was a miniature dachshund who had been abandoned at a local boarding facility. If we paid the bill for her unplanned, extended stay, she was ours to keep. I was four years old when my parents settled the account and I got a four-legged best friend for life. We did not know her past, but her present with us consisted of terrified nights during thunderstorms and of course, the most terrifying holiday of the year for many canines: Fourth of July.
I didn’t witness fireworks on Independence Day until high school, after Noodles had passed away. I spent every July 4th evening of the 1980’s under that dining room table with her, reading a book, my hand on her quaking side, or her entire sausage body curled up in my lap, shivering and shaking until she finally fell asleep. This was before Thundershirts, CBD oil, pheromone therapy, and prozac for dogs. There was only one thing that could get a dog through that kind of a night: her best friend beside her. I might have only been eight years old, not even old enough to ride my bike alone beyond the end of the block, but I could provide my dog with the one thing she needed—the thing she always gave to me when I needed it: a best friend.
Noodles was always there for me. She did not comprehend my distress and the drama of human existence, but she allowed me my emotions and would never leave my side, letting me cry into her fur and hold her until I fell asleep, my face still wet with tears. Now that she was in distress, I would do as any good friend would and return the favor. Maybe you can’t truly understand your friend’s fear or their pain, but you never walk away. You sit down, you fix a cup of tea, and you hold their hand (or rub their ears in this case) and let them know that no matter what happens, you will never leave their side.
As this most frightful holiday looms nearer, truly consider what your dog is going through and how you can help. Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. Maybe your dog doesn’t mind one bit that it sounds like land mines are exploding on the front lawn. You might even think he is deaf for his complete and utter lack of reaction. And then you unwrap a cheese stick in front of the refrigerator and he rockets through four rooms, leaps over the couch, and skids to your feet in less than three seconds. Clearly not deaf. He just has his priorities straight.
But for other dogs, Fourth of July is like being in a war zone. We may think it is irrational for them to get so worked up over it. But then consider what we humans can be afraid of: snakes, planes, bugs we can’t remember the name of, getting an F on a term paper, clowns… most of these things don’t do us any harm, but we fear them anyway. So why can’t a dog be utterly terrified of massive amounts of multi-colored gunpowder exploding overhead? Of all the things we fear, I’m not quite sure why this isn’t on our own top ten list.
Luckily in this day and age there are ways to help them through this rough night. If your dog truly could injure or harm herself due to the level of panic she experiences, seek professional help. Ask your veterinarian about calming medications that she can take. If it’s not quite to that level, there are plenty of over-the-counter and at-home aids.
T-Touch is a massage technique not only useful for this night, but many situations. You can take a class in person, read a book, or watch instructional videos online.
Thundershirts can provide relief to some dogs, giving the dogs that “full body hug” feel.
Provide your dog with a piece of your dirty laundry to keep you close. Dirty socks, an old sweatshirt, or your worn out slippers can be an olfactory security blanket. Let her sleep in your laundry basket if she so desires.
Find out what your dog’s favorite, most soothing item is on the planet and make sure he has it before nightfall. It may be a chew toy, a kong with peanut butter, or the very first stuffed animal toy you got him the day you took him home from the shelter.
Make sure your dog can’t escape. Close windows and run the air conditioning. The hum of the AC might even help dull the bangs and piercing noises. Lock all doors.
If your dog is a crate-lover and burrower, cover his crate with blankets and close the door if he wishes. If she’d prefer a dark place to be alone, make a little fort in the back of your closet and leave the door open enough so she can come in and out if she chooses.
Keep your dog’s collar on with her tags of her city license, her rabies vaccination, and your own phone number. Double-check that the info you registered your dog’s microchip with is up to date on the company’s website. If she does manage to get out and lose her collar, this is your permanent failsafe and the first point of contact the shelter has.
But no one wants it to get that far. This is the busiest night of the year for animal control officers. Don’t let your dog be the cause of one of their calls. Your dog asks very little of you; tonight she only asks that you give her what she gives you every second of every day: your love, devotion, and presence.
There are some pretty good events to attend on the night of Independence Day, but you have every night of summer to play and enjoy your human friends. This night, your dog needs you. Be there, all day and into the night. This year make 4th of July not about your human gatherings, but about your commitment to your faithful friend. Weather-permitting, take your friend for a long hike during the day. Stop by a dog friendly restaurant or brewery for some social time. Have a doggy playdate so he too, can get in some social time. Get out the kiddie pool and hose and let her romp in the water if that’s her thing. Toss the ball in the yard until it feels like your arm will fall off. And as night falls and the light shows begin, be there. Just be there. Hopefully he’ll be tired and happy from a day spent with you, an entire day spent doing things together. But even so, the noise may be scary.
Do not judge her for her fear or pain; she has never judged you for yours. When you spent six long days and nights in bed, crying because that silly girl who smelled like cats stopped coming over, your dog remained by your side. When you lost your job and you couldn’t even muster the confidence to pick up the phone to call your parents, your dog was there, never disappointed in you. When you watched that horror movie and then spent all night under the covers with a flashlight, she was right there with you, watching your back.
There are many ways to help your dog on this night—from medications to massage—and sometimes you truly can’t physically be there due to a job or a family commitment. And she’ll understand. She always does. Make sure she is safe indoors. Barring those circumstances you cannot get out of, remember that the way you help her now is the same way you helped her when you were eight years old. Get a blanket, a book, and a flight light. Grab a box of cookies (one for her and one for you), and settle in under the dining room table. Because the one thing your dog needs most on this night is the easiest, least expensive, most spectacular thing you can give her: yourself.
Stephanie Wescott is a freelance writer whose mission is to save animals’ lives through story. Although she hails from New England and resides in Southern California, you’ll mostly likely find her somewhere in between on the open road with her canine companion Tucker, searching for trails to hike and stories to tell. You can follow their tracks and read their tales at www.alltuckeredout.org.