It is afternoon on a typical Hawaiian Fourth of July. Danté, a seven-year-old Irish setter mix, is sedated and lays on the rug at his owner’s feet, barely able to keep his eyes open. Juliana nervously sits on the couch attempting to read. She waits for the dreaded firecracker clamor to begin.
“Blam, blam, blam!” Panicked, Danté leaps onto the couch, upsetting the coffee table. Crazed and hyperventilating, he charges through the house out of control. Juliana tries to restrain him, but fails. Repeated staccato blasts echo throughout the neighborhood. Illegal aerials scream and explode into the sky. Danté pants heavily, heart rate escalating. Agitated like storm surf, the normally calm dog begins a blind-panic meltdown that will last long after the firecrackers have ceased their terrorizing din. The celebrants will never know about the living inferno that envelopes Danté, or how their festivities have affected Juliana, who, for the hundredth time, considers euthanasia for her beloved pet.
New Year’s Eve is even more traumatizing. Danté will again be heavily sedated, but, as usual, once the firecrackers and explosives have begun, the sedative will have no effect. Nearing collapse, Danté will “park” in a corner and breathe so hard that blood from his lungs and throat will spatter the pale yellow walls.
To “escape” his inferno, Danté has jumped through the screened, second floor window. Twice.
A few years ago, Juliana discovered Danté hiding beneath a parked car on her quiet, north shore street. His reddish-brown coat was matted; he was frightened, half-starved, and trusted no one. His earlier life experiences—apparently brutal and noisy—had traumatized the dog into associating fear with earsplitting noises.
Like all dogs, Danté lives in the moment. Ordinarily, he is a happy, ball-chasing canine who is a delight and companion to his owner. But on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve, and Chinese New Year, Danté’s life becomes a recurring, horrific nightmare. Admittedly, Danté’s case is extreme, but he has plenty of company, both animal and human, who share this understandable phobia of firecrackers and fireworks.
The cost: pleasure vs. pain
Throughout the Islands during cultural celebrations, thousands of pets are affected, as well as our infirm kupuna; young children and sleeping babies; sensitive war veterans; and people who suffer with asthma and breathing difficulties. Added to this is the unknown effects of poisonous, particle-laden, smoke-filled air on Hawai‘i’s 300-plus endangered birds and animals. Where should the line be drawn between those who wish to celebrate cultural traditions by detonating deafening explosives, and those who simply desire peace and quiet, fresh air to breathe, and a safe environment for their children and property? Should a dog—or any pet—have to be put down because of raucous celebrations?
As the controversy rages, and whatever your stand on the issue, just remember Danté and others like him, who have no voice to make their case. All Danté wants is to chase bright yellow tennis balls on the beach, swim in the sparkling ocean, and feel the kind hands of his owner. We need to count the silent cost of this standoff between cultural traditions and the health and welfare of all.
· Dogs, and many animals, have ears more sensitive than humans. According to an article on Pet Help India’s Web site (www.pethelpindia.com), “Fireworks emit sounds up to 190 decibels, a full 110-115 decibels higher than the 75- to 80-decibel range where damage to the human ear begins.” This is louder than a gunshot (140 db) or a low-flying jet (100 db).
· Working dogs and companion dogs can be so traumatized that they are unable to continue working.
· Animals and humans can suffer burns, eye damage, hearing loss, tinnitus, and deep-rooted and severe emotional distress.