I write in praise of Firework Night, aka Bonfire Night, aka the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament and honestly, not sure I blame him at the moment but that’s a subject for another blog assuming I want MI5 to bug my phone.
But no. I don’t write in praise. I write on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of animals who are so utterly terrified by the constant and ever-louder bangs that they start to shake as it gets dark, won’t go out, won’t eat, won’t drink. Their heart-rate goes rocketing up, their adrenal system is on override and no matter how much Rescue Remedy you shove down them, or how many DAP plug-ins you try, or Thundercoats you wrap round them, they are still terrified. Some run away and are lost for good. Others have to be sedated.
A dog’s hearing is far more sensitive than ours. Whereas people can detect sounds ranging from 64 to 23,000 Hertz, dogs can detect sounds ranging from 67 to 45,000 Hertz. If we can hear a sound at 100 feet, a dog can hear it a quarter of a mile away. Ever laughed at how scared your dog is of the hoover? That’s because the sound is deafening them.
When we acquired our beautiful lurcher Dylan, it was pretty clear that he’d never been in a house before. Dumped as a stray in Merthyr Tydfil, picked up by the pound there, transferred to Watford animal shelter and rescued by us, Dylan was traumatised, stressed by everything from the back door to a cupboard opening. Gradually, he calmed, settled and became the first dog we’ve ever had who loves to play. But here we are again at 5th November – or not, in fact. Fireworks have been going off for a good couple of weeks already, thanks to Diwali and people thinking it’s fun to let them off because why shouldn’t they, it’s their human right to let off fireworks at any time from dusk to 3am? Who am I to tell them that their constant firework action is terrifying my dog and so many other people’s animals? 5th November only comes once a year doesn’t it – oh sorry, I mean 5th November for six weeks or so. And then at New Year. And then some other random time.
Dylan begins to shake as it gets dark. He won’t eat or go out, he is now in that Pavlov’s Dog state where he associates the dark with noise and fear. And of course he’s not alone.
In Canada or Australia, you’d need a permit to set off fireworks in your back garden.
In the UK it’s illegal for anyone under 18 to possess a firework in a public place. According to the law,
fireworks cannot be set off by a private individual between 11.00pm and 7.00am except for certain nights of the year. What certain nights of the year might they be? Any night between say 15th October and 10th November, with a few added extras to use them up?
There’s an organisation called Ban the Bang currently campaigning for stricter firework law – this is what they propose:
1. Ban the private use of fireworks and public displays except for three festival days per year (plus Saturday nearest to each festival day). (I.e. in UK, November 5th, New Year and Diwali)
2. Fireworks that bang and rise more than 2 metres (average garden fence height) would be banned outright for use by the public. Only bang-free ground based fireworks (with a dispersal range of no more than 2 metres) could be sold to / used by the public – and only sold for two weeks prior to festival days (see 1.).
3. Outside of festival days – the public would be able to apply for a private party / wedding reception licence (restricted to one licence per household per year). With this one-day licence, the licence holder would be able to purchase no-bang ground fireworks from licensed all-year firework shops. (These shops will not be allowed to supply loud / aerial fireworks to the general public at any time – see 2.)
4. Sensible restrictions should also apply to professionally organized public displays. For example, enforcing a maximum threshold on noise:
No public firework displays louder than 85db.
Locations of displays must be carefully planned (and revised), whereby they can only take place in open, strictly designated areas least likely to affect wildlife. Displays must be a minimum distance of around 1.5 km from rural habitat areas such as trees, woodlands, heathlands etc. and at least 2km from stables, zoos and farm animal locations.
Wow, what a bunch of joyless arseholes you might think. But is it really so outrageous? I actually love firework disaplys, I think they’re beautiful and was lucky enough to be in Sydney one New Year’s Eve and watched the display from the Opera House. Fantastic, and I wouldn’t want to ban them. The fireworks at the Olympics? Bloody marvellous. But that’s because they were special. Made special, because the occasion called for it. What’s so special about setting off a banger every night for a month? Have we so lost our ability to wait for an occasion, to plan for something wonderful? Does everything have to be now, all the time? Where’s the joy in that?
So yes, I will be looking at the firework displays and thinking how pretty. I might even go to one. But I will also be aware of Dylan hiding in the darkest, smallest place in the house, of the other dogs, cats, horses, rabbits who are thoroughly and comprehensively traumatised. Ever been so scared you thought you might die? I have. It’s not nice. It’s not nice for animals either.