On New Year’s Eve, Debbie Castagna isn’t thinking about her midnight kiss or resolutions. She’s thinking about Jasper, her 5-year-old terrier mix, who will be terrified in her Delray Beach home. That’s because at midnight, when people ignite their fireworks, Jasper will panic, sprint around the house, and dart into a closet. He hides there, trembling, and won’t come out until morning.
“My dog thinks he is getting shot at,” Castagna says. “I can’t go out and have a good time knowing he’s so scared. I try to be home by midnight so at least he knows we’re here with him.”
Last July 4, Castagna felt compelled to do something. She figured she couldn’t be the only person bothered by fireworks. Besides scaring pets, fireworks can cause serious injuries and respiratory problems, start fires, and trigger veterans coping with posttraumatic stress disorder. Online, she found a New Zealand petition calling for a ban of the private use of fireworks. Nearly 35,000 people signed it. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals even backed it. A series of similar petitions popped up in England, South Africa, and Canada. Castagna decided to start one in Florida.
“We have a duty of care to animals, both urban and wild,” the petition states. “Our right to be entertained in our backyard should not supersede their rights to a safe and fear-free environment.”
Nearly 1,000 people have signed it.
“The backyard use of fireworks has gotten completely out of control in my neighborhood,” says Karen Feldman of Fort Myers, Florida. “My neighborhood sounds like a war zone not just on the holiday but for a week before and after as people indiscriminately set off these loud fireworks, terrifying my dogs and cats.”
“My animals literally think the world is coming to an end, and one of my dogs goes into shock almost every year,” says Allison Snow of Alva, Florida. “She has become unresponsive in the past, and I had to get her breathing again.”
Castagna hasn’t heard from Gov. Rick Scott, whom the petition is directed to, or any Palm Beach County commissioners yet. But at the very least, she hopes it raises awareness and start a dialogue about the consequences of fireworks use.
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“I think some people don’t think all their decisions through and how it might impact others,” Castagna explains. “People become more sensitive when they realize what it does to animals.”
Only certain types of fireworks are available for private use in Florida, including sparklers, fountains, snakes, and glow worms. But a loophole in the legislation allows vendors to sell other types of fireworks as long as the buyer vouches it is for legal, approved uses. Once the fireworks ignite, law enforcement has a hard time tracking illegal fireworks and enforcing noise ordinances. Usually the commotion is over (and the damage done) by the time police arrive.
The petition proposes limiting fireworks to designated shows like the one in Delray Beach at Old School Square Park or at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
“We don’t want to ban fireworks outright,” Castagna clarifies. “We just want to know where and when the shows will be so we can prepare and isolate ourselves and our animals from it.”