Imagine you saw a man screaming repeatedly at a dog on your street. The dog was so terrified it was shaking, but the man was enjoying himself, so he carried on scaring the dog.
What would you think of that man? Most people would be horrified. But if you go to firework displays, you’re more like him than you might realise.
Pets get very upset by fireworks. Dogs and cats don’t understand what pyrotechnics are. They just know that suddenly there are loud, terrifying explosions. The results of their panic can be deeply upsetting and tragic.
Charles, a greyhound, was filmed shaking with terror during a display. A dog in Manchester died of a heart attack while trying to burrow under decking to get away from the loud explosions. It’s not the first time this has happened, either.
Another dog, called Shearer, was so scared by the noise of nearby fireworks during a beach walk that he ran out into the sea. His human companion camped out for days, hoping his beloved dog would return. A week later, Shearer’s body washed ashore. These incidents are not one-offs: a poll by the RSPCA found that 62 per cent of dogs show signs of distress during fireworks.
Other pets suffer, too. A cat called Spot ran out of the house in panic during fireworks and when he returned he was “shaking and cowering” and deteriorating rapidly. Vets said Spot had been hit by a car and he had to be put to sleep.
But what about other animals? A horse was so terrified by the sound of a firework display that he twisted his gut and galloped round a field in panic before dying. Vets estimated that he suffered alone for 14 hours before he died.
A two-year old horse was found dead, tangled in wire, after he tried to flee from the loud bangs. Marks all over his field showed he, too, had galloped and skidded around in terror before he died. In Lincolnshire, a horse was so terrified by a nearby display she jumped out of her field and was hit by a car on the A57.
Farm animals are scared, too. Pregnant animals sometimes miscarry. A bull trying to escape the terrifying explosions died after becoming impaled on a fence. Birds panic in the dark and fly into buildings. Squirrels abandon their nests and then are left so disorientated that they cannot find their way back to them.
Hedgehogs often curl up and sleep in bonfires before they are lit. Imagine their terror when they wake up and are burned alive, unable to escape. Fish ingest the toxic debris of fireworks that land in ponds, rivers, and streams and endure long, painful deaths. Ducks and swans get tangled in firework debris.
Is the momentary thrill of a firework display really worth all this animal suffering and death? If you had to see the suffering and death first-hand, would you still think it was all worth it?
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That question lies at the heart of humanity’s relationship with animal cruelty: most people don’t care about animal suffering when they can pretend it isn’t happening. Factory farms and slaughterhouses are usually built where most people won’t go past and even then, they have high walls to make sure no one sees what is going on in there. Scientists perform their wicked animal experiments in windowless laboratories.
When people are confronted with animal suffering first-hand, they usually get angry. During the heatwaves, people were horrified to see dogs locked in hot cars or walked in baking heat on sizzling pavements.
When you watch fireworks, you don’t see the dogs trembling, the cats being run over by cars, or the animals dying slowly after they were caught in fencing. But by setting off fireworks, or attending a big display, you are still playing a part in all that suffering and death. So if you are against animal suffering, don’t buy fireworks and boycott any displays.
Chas would like to dedicate this article to the memory of the animal rights hunger striker Barry Horne, who died on 5 November, 2001. You can learn more about his life on the Radicals and Revolutionaries podcast.