By Lindsay Pollard-Post
Not everyone is “ooing” and “ahhing” over the reinstatement of La Jolla’s fireworks display this Independence Day. Celebrating our freedom by blasting explosives into the sky is frightening — and sometimes fatal — for the wildlife and domesticated animals who call our country home. It’s also deeply upsetting to many combat veterans who have experienced the trauma of war firsthand. For all of these reasons, more and more communities are modernizing their Fourth of July celebrations by switching to other forms of entertainment, such as laser light shows — and La Jolla should, too.
In 2012, the town of Narrowsburg, N.Y., cancelled its Fourth of July fireworks display. Some people complained, but the town’s decision made the holiday much safer for another American symbol: bald eagles. In previous years, the bald eagles who make their nests along the Delaware River in Narrowsburg were apparently so terrified by the fireworks’ deafening booms and flashing lights that some chicks fled their nests. One eagle fledgling was even found with a broken leg the next day.
Narrowsburg isn’t the only place where fireworks have put birds in danger. In Gualala, Calif., a fireworks show caused nesting seabirds to abandon their vulnerable chicks and prompted the California Coastal Commission to ban the city’s fireworks display. Fireworks that were shot off in an Arkansas neighborhood one New Year’s Eve sent red-winged blackbirds and European starlings into a panic, and about 5,000 birds were killed after colliding with houses, signs and the ground.
Fireworks fill the air with smoke, which can damage birds’ sensitive respiratory systems, and they pollute water sources with debris. Many fireworks containpotassium perchlorate, which can leach into groundwater and may affect thyroid function, especially in children and pregnant women. Stray sparks can ignite wildlife habitat as well as residents’ homes.
Domesticated animals are also traumatized by the thundering explosions of fireworks. Many animals tremble in terror, pace the floor, pant and hide. Others, desperate to escape what must sound like World War III to their sensitive ears, tear through screens or even break through windows. Many dogs and cats who are left outdoors during fireworks jump over or dig under fences and take off running. Animal shelters are often flooded with stray animals following the Fourth of July, many of them arriving with bloody paws and covered in cuts. Those who make it to a shelter are the lucky ones: Many animals who flee in panic are hit by cars and never reunited with their families.
Staying with our animal companions during fireworks displays will help keep them safe. Closing blinds and curtains, keeping the lights on and playing classical music will minimize the booms and flashing. Having our animals microchipped and making sure they wear collars with current identification tags will help us find them if the worst somehow still happens.
Many veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress also find fireworks explosions upsetting — if not unbearable — because they trigger vivid flashbacks of war. Affected individuals experience severe anxiety, sleeplessness, panic attacks and other symptoms. According to one former military combat correspondent for the U.S. Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan, “It wasn’t until I started talking with other veterans about it that I realized that many others feel the same way I do. It’s changed the way my family celebrates the July 4th holiday together, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Instead of setting off explosives or watching others do so, we find other ways — calmer, quieter ways — to celebrate our freedoms, because the holiday and this country is worthy of the celebration.”
Let’s hope that La Jolla will join the growing number of cities across America that are forgoing fireworks in favor of peaceful celebrations that Americans of all species can enjoy. We don’t need bombs bursting in air to remind us of what makes the United States great.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation, which supports People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the world’s largest animal-rights organization.