Red Dog and fireworks

30 Jun

I have talked about Red Dog a lot over the last dozen years.  She has been an important part of my life.  Right now, as I write this, she’s just outside the kitchen door, protesting being outside.  She prefers her usual activity, also known as “Occupy Floor”.  It’s a movement she believes in devoutly, as long as it is in my vicinity.

Red Dog has a strange personality.  Most people, on observing her for short periods of time, regard her as “very loyal.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not doubting her loyalty at all, at least as long as buttered toast isn’t in the equation.  On the other hand, since I know her very well, I know it’s more than loyalty.  It’s a severe case of separation anxiety.  It is her job to protect me, and that means she has to be with me at all times.  She has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that she is with me.

On one occasion, we were visiting friends.  She was young then, less than two years old, and she was more than a little suspicious of new people and situations still.  She lacked the confidence that more experience would give her.  We were in a crowded living room, and all of a sudden, I realized that she was panicking.  She was on the opposite side of the room, with people and furniture blocking her access to me, even though I wasn’t more than a dozen feet away.  I tried to get people to move to give her a clear path, warning them that she was panicking, but people who are not accustomed to the level of devotion she exhibited weren’t accustomed to dealing with panic either.  She collected herself, then sailed in a single leap over a coffee table and leather sofa to land beside me, managing somehow to avoid crashing into the stairs beside me.  Needless to say, after that, when I moved, she tended to move immediately as well.  The people who saw it also realized that when I said to move, that maybe they should too.

On another occasion, I was at the house of a man I was dating.  He was hosting a seafood boil with his neighbor, his brother.  There was going to be a lot of people and children, and I knew that supervising her was not going to be easy.  The solution was to leave her inside the house.  Unfortunately, she was not in agreement and decided that escape was critically important.  She exited through a window.  It just would have been nice if it had been an open window.

Obviously, she prefers to be at my side.  She has developed more restraint over the years, but she still is very unhappy at being left behind.   Unfortunately, the world is not particularly receptive to her desire to remain at my side, and she’s had to be left behind for everything from jobs to hospital stays, as well as on a few trips.  She has been boarded, and while I’d not claim she was an easy boarder, she is usually manageable, as long as there is no possible escape route.

During our time in New Orleans, we lived very near the Zephyr baseball stadium.  After almost all home games, there was a fireworks display.  It was an impressive one too, far more elaborate than the small town displays I was accustomed to seeing on the 4th of July.  However, among Red Dog’s skill sets, coping with loud noises such as fireworks and gunfire was not among them.  To make it even worse, New Orleans has fireworks for more than baseball and 4th of July–it’s also wildly popular for New Year’s Eve.

It was a New Year’s Eve when Red Dog made a very surprising decision.  I was hosting my then-boyfriend and his younger children at my house for a rather low-key celebration.  At midnight, we assembled on the kitchen steps to watch a rather impressive neighborhood fireworks display.  I tried to keep Red Dog inside, but she was facing a true dilemma: she could remain inside where it was safe, but she was alone OR she could come outside with the dangerous noise where I was at.  She came out, she darted back inside, she wanted out…back and forth she went, probably a dozen times.  Finally, she sat on the step beside me as we ooo’d and ahhh’d over the fireworks.  She began to watch them, as I put my arm around her, absentmindedly scratching and petting her.  Fireworks became a good thing.  Over the coming years we lived there, everything changed about fireworks.  Instead of cringing when it started, she would start barking at the door, demanding to be let out.  She loved to watch the fireworks.  She still does.

Okay, that’s totally weird.  Seriously, how many dogs LIKE fireworks?  She is the only one I’ve ever encountered that does.  Don’t get me wrong, she does not like firecrackers–they sound too much like gun shots and gun shots scare her half to death.  She likes the colorful displays in the night sky, even when accompanied by loud booms and shrieking whistles.  She stands and stares at them fixedly, and I have the peculiar sensation that she is remembering that long-ago New Year’s display when I was petting her as we watched them with our friends.

Our other dogs hate them.  They have no desire to watch, and prefer their crates during thunderstorms and fireworks alike.  Red isn’t thrilled with thunder, but I have seen her standing in downpours, complete with thunder and lightning, if I was anticipated home from work.  She has sat through a storm with me on a memorable camping trip where our sole protection when the clouds opened up was to sit on the tarp and flip it over our heads while we waited for it to stop.  I’ve also seen her jump a few seconds before I heard the clap of thunder–she’s apparently feeling the change in electric field before the sound arrives.

In the USA, the 4th of July is a date with many missing animals, terrified by the sounds, they run and try to escape.  Usually, they end up lost and sometimes it’s worse.  Often, they never make their way home again.  It’s a terrible time of year for dogs and cats, with the frightening noises and sulphurous stench of the gunpowder to make the explosions.  Don’t leave your pets outside unattended, it will save you a lot of heartache and it may save their lives.  Just bring them indoors with you, and provide them with a safe space when you are gone, whether its a crate to prevent them from eating inappropriate things (like your sofa, the carpet, trash, electrical cords, etc.) or so that they have a safe “den” feeling to hide from the noise.  Living in the South, I use wire crates for ventilation, but typically will drape them with a small sheet or towel to increase the feeling of security.  Other pets may prefer to curl up on the sofa or bed, some may prefer UNDER the sofa or bed–you know your pet best.

Be safe and keep your pet safe this 4th of July.  Don’t become another statistic.


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