November 5th might be officially Guy Fawkes’ Night, but if you have horses, dogs or other pets in your family, you’re probably halfway through the period of firework hell – with more to come at the weekend.
Forget romantic images of rosy-cheeked children oohing and aahing as fireworks light up the sky. Horse and pet owners know all too well what the reality is: anxious horses and the associated risk of colic or injury due to stress; terrified dogs; sleepless nights.
Last year, a neighbour’s mare was so frightened by nearby fireworks that she tried to jump out of her stable. In doing so, she cut her leg badly and also damaged a suspensory ligament.
We’re still trying to make up for a very long Sunday, as we stayed up until a private fireworks party finished at 1am. We were invited, but the hosts thought it was funny that we opted out so we could make sure our animals were safe. Please forgive me if I’ve lost my sense of humour.
The horses have been on valerian for the past week and will stay on it until the weekend’s over. It’s definitely helped – maybe I should take some, too.
A friend in Kent says we got off lightly. Her new neighbours decided, without asking permission, to go into her field to set off their rockets because they thought it would be safer than launching them from their garden. They didn’t realise that two ponies were still out there; luckily, the ponies galloped to the far end of the field and stayed there, but the neighbours’ only excuse was “We didn’t think you’d mind.”
I know I can’t expect families not to enjoy fireworks. I know I’m probably being miserable and anti-social, though not as anti-social as the trespassing neighbours. But I really would love to see fireworks banned except at organised public displays – preferably ones held to raise money for good causes.
It isn’t that our animals are particularly nervous. Landowners nearby run shoots throughout the season and both the horses and the dog are used to the sound of gunshots. But there’s something about the sound, rather than the sight, of fireworks that terrifies them.
That’s why Copas Turkeys, in Berkshire, carry out acclimatisation training. If turkeys are scared, they attack each other and also self-mutilate, so the company gradually gets them used to fireworks being let off before the ‘Guy Fawkes season’ starts. There’s something ironic about keeping turkeys calm so they can be killed for Christmas, but it is a welfare issue.
Fireworks also bring a risk of fire. That’s why I support farmers’ and wildlife organisations’ calls for a ban on Chinese lanterns. They may look beautiful as they float into the sky, but there’s nothing beautiful about the threat they pose to people, animals and property. It isn’t just the risk of burns, either; the pieces of wire left behind are often eaten by cows, with fatal results.
I know it’s all about tradition, but if people really need an excuse to celebrate a bodged plot from 1605, there must be better ways. Remember, remember the fifth of November if you want to, but please remember animals, too.