It’s been rough enough this year without having to deal with people igniting things that explode and tossing them everywhere. At the very least, people deserve some peace of mind and psyche, and so do dogs, cats and humans suffering from trauma.

“My heart rate escalates, and I start getting really edgy, especially if I don’t know where they go off,” Francis York said. “They take me into some pretty dark places—I have to disappear for a while. I go somewhere where it’s a little quieter. Usually my dog is with me, and he’ll bring me back from reactive anxiety.”

York is a retired Marine who heads  A Veteran’s Objective, an organization that offers disabled veterans and first responders free education in training their own dogs to be service animals. He said that his dog is also retired from service and hates fireworks with a passion. A Veteran’s Objective trains service dogs and desensitizes them to the flashes of light and loud booms of pyrotechnics. Methods include taking them to where they’re shooting them off and showing them movies with loud noises.

“I wish,” York said, “that people would take into account that the person next door may be a vet.”

Every year about now, I write about the effects of fireworks on animals and how to care for yours. Since 2016, with a hiccup in 2019 when they didn’t do it, Long Beach Animal Care Services and Live Love Animal Rescue teamed up for Foster the Fourth, an effort that placed dogs in foster homes for a period before the Fourth of July until a few days after. This provided kennel space for animals that had run off in terror and become lost or injured when the pyrotechnics started even more in earnest during the Fourth of July. It was also sneaky in the best way possible because it turned some of the foster humans into permanent doggie parents.

But dogs, cats and rabbits freak out daily from fireworks that have started this year as early as Mother’s Day. You don’t need the ears of a bunny to hear them, whether they’re miles away or thrown out of a vehicle in front of your house. They’re reported to be louder and more dangerous than they ever have been.

“The fireworks used now cause fear because people don’t know if they’re bombs or not,” said an administrator of the newly formed Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks community Facebook page, who requested anonymity.  “They’re not Gramma’s fireworks—they’re heavy on explosives.”

It’s been a rough year so far for animals, whether they trot, fly or walk upright.

Fireworks-safety PSAs go beyond clever

Last year, some Long Beach residents responded to a call from Councilwoman Suzie Price and the 3rd District Fireworks Advisory Committee to provide an out-of-the-box way to educate the public at large, children in particular, about the dangers of fireworks. The committee joined forces with the Cal State Long Beach Animation Department to create the Safety Squad. The result was a series of clever, quirky little PSAs in the form of animated videos. “Sparkie the Firework” is a mindlessly destructive little flame ball based on Reddy Kilowatt, the 20th century animated mascot for electricity utilities. Actually, he’s more like Reddy’s dumbbell nephew. But he sure does get the point across about how destructive the heedless use of fireworks can be. No soft-pedaling there.

DogVlog” and “Be Pawpared” are good, smart stuff that teach kids about caring for their pets during fireworks season, which seems to be increasing every year. “DogVlog” gives kids—grownups, too—tips for keeping their pets from freaking out when bombs burst in air. “Be Pawpared,” presented against a backdrop of Long Beach Animal Care Services, tells how you can keep pets from running away into the shelter and, should they do so, how they’ll be returned home safely.

“This year, we realized that we kind of missed a golden opportunity to talk about PTSD,” said Ken Weiss, the Safety Squad’s spokesperson. “So, we went back to the animation department and talked to Suzie. We said we wanted to do one more animation—through the eyes of a dog, having fireworks shot off around people who potentially have PTSD. She loved the concept, so we went to the animation department and pitched it. Several doctors met with the students and educated them on what a PTSD patient goes through as the fireworks go on. Then, they created ‘My Human.’”

“It’s short, it’s to the point, and it’s very true,” York said of the video. “It pulled on some heartstrings with me.”

Grab the tissue box, hug your pet, and watch.

Video courtesy of The Safety Squad

Last year, the PSAs played at Movies in the Park, hospitals, schools and on the electronic billboards within Long Beach’s boundaries. This year, the committee has been working even harder to get the PSAs out to the public, expanding distribution to 140 entities. Besides the electronic bulletin boards, Weiss said that the PSAs will be visible on LBTV, social media, the public library system and Long Beach Veterans Affairs outlets. The Long Beach Unified School District has made them available to students during the shutdown and is requesting administrators to put them on their schools’ marquees.

“The kids will pick up on them,” Weiss said. “It’s not someone standing in front of you saying, if you use fireworks, you’ll be fined $1,000.”

electronic billboard that talks about the dangers of fireworks against a backdrop of tall buildings and green plants on groun
The 3rd District Fireworks Committee’s message displays on the city’s electronic billboards. Photo courtesy of the Safety Squad.

Weiss said that The Safety Squad is actively recruiting new committee members; and that anyone who is interested in participating should contact him at [email protected]. The group plans to go to the City Council with more plans for next year and suggestions for monitoring illegal fireworks activity, including use of drones.

“Educating the public takes time—10 to 12 years to get where it needs to be,” Weiss said.

Fed up with flashes and booms

Poster displaying dangers of fireworks and where to report them.
Graphic courtesy of Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks.

A considerable number of people don’t want to wait that long. They’re fed to the teeth, which have too long been set on edge, by the unchecked explosions at all hours of the day that have nothing to do with celebrating the birth of the country.

“One of the things people are talking about is how they want their lives back and to keep their terrified animals calm,” Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks’ administrator said. “You don’t want to leave your house because, what if your house catches fire? Veterans too—everyone with PTSD has to relive those events because it takes them back.”

Long Beach Municipal Code  cites it illegal for the unpermitted discharge of fireworks within city limits. However, according to Arantxa Chavarria, spokeswoman for the Long Beach Police Department, a police officer or arson investigator has to witness the act for a citation to be issued, and a resident can potentially be a victim of the crime. That can be scary for a lot of people, the Facebook group’s administrator said.

I know I’m a pet columnist, but human animals, trauma survivors in particular, have feelings, too.

“Last year was my first summer here in Long Beach,” the administrator said. “I live in District 8. Fourth of July was the big awakening for me—it was a war zone here. My house was actually shaking every 5 minutes. I had to go to a movie to get some peace. When I mentioned it, a few people said, hey, get over it, it’s part of Long Beach culture, there’s nothing you can do. But a lot more people were over it and feeling alone and helpless. I felt that it was possible to change this situation.”

The administrator makes a point to call the LBPD non-emergency and says that they’ve always been courteous. Letters have gone out to the mayor, council members, and fire and police departments.

“I’ve noticed the sugar-coated PSAs from our officials sprinkled here and there, but beyond that, I haven’t seen any adequate ongoing campaigns, news coverage, education or community involvement about this issue,” the administrator said in a letter to the Long Beach Post. “There wasn’t even a group on Facebook, which is why I created the Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks Facebook group as a starting point.”

Fireworks Are Illegal appeared on Facebook on May 24. Long Beach Post columnist Tim Grobaty introduced the group in a June 10 article about community response to illegal fireworks and some of the ways that other cities are addressing it.

Fireworks have become more scourge than celebration in Long Beach neighborhoods

Membership in Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks is by registration only; as of this writing, 946 fed-up residents have joined in the past 3 weeks, even with no publicity. Several City Council members, including Al Austin and Daryl Supernaw, have joined. Members report locations of explosions, suggestions for dealing with scofflaws, and demands that city government address the problems the way other cities are.

A poll on the page shows the greatest number of members living in District 2, with districts 9, 8 and 7 following in that order. District 2 residents may report more frequency of explosions because of the proximity to the beach, but the North Long Beach area has the largest total number. One North Long Beach member said that fireworks had been going year-round, with maybe one day of respite.

“One of the members spent hours online looking for illegal fireworks sales and reporting them,” the administrator said. “Cities such as Norwalk  have made it easier to arrest violators, and that’s what we’re trying to approach the city with. Right now, But we’re taking a backseat right now because there are huge issues in the city that are presently being addressed. Once they start having Council meetings on Tuesday nights again, we can definitely show up in force.”

Like the local fireworks committee, Long Beach Against Illegal Fireworks plans to go to City Council to address the issue.

Keep yourselves safe, check with your neighbor and, just to circle around to the usual focus on pets, be sure your furry buddies are “insured” with microchips and have a quiet, secure place to hunker down.