Animal rescue groups in the Lowcountry are bracing for the inevitable flood of calls during the Fourth of July holiday, each asking the same thing: "Have you seen my dog?"
In the aftermath of Independence Day celebrations, many pet owners find themselves separated from their furry friends, local animal workers say.
"Even the best-behaved dogs can be spooked by a loud noise that they were not expecting," said Franny Gerthoffer of the Hilton Head Humane Association. "They are Houdinis when it comes to getting out of a collar or a home or yard."
Gerthoffer said that while dogs may be considered part of the family, July 4 may be the one occasion they should be left out of the tradition -- especially when it involves fireworks displays.
At the Coastal Veterinary Clinic in Bluffton, Dr. Ben Parker said July 4 is a good time to remind pet owners that microchips are a valuable tool for locating lost animals.
He recommends that families leave their pets at home, especially ones known to be frightened by loud noises. Securing them in a room inside the house with the blinds closed to shield flashing lights and a television or radio with the volume on to drown out noise is the best bet for keeping pets safe, Parker said.
Leaving pets at home is also the best action as far as law enforcement is concerned.
Particularly anxious pets staying at home can be given a Valium or similar stress-relieving medications for animals, as long as the dosage corresponds to their age and weight. Dosages between 2 and 5 milligrams are safe for all dogs, Parker said.
Amy Campanini of the Palmetto Animal League in Okatie said the adoption center expects to get calls about runaway pets during the July 4 holiday, and volunteers are prepared to use the league's network of rescue groups to find missing animals.
"We don't see an influx of animals, but we get a lot of calls from people who lost their dogs because they took them to an event where fireworks and pets don't mix," she said.
If a pet escapes, Campanini said, the league recommends preparing fliers and posting them in the neighborhood, with local rescue groups, and at veterinarian offices and pet-specialty stores, such as groomers.
When the league gets calls about found pets, Campanini said, volunteers will provide food, crates and other supplies so that finders can keep the animals until the owners turn up.
"We'll do just about anything to keep a dog out of a county sheltering system, simply because there is limited space," she said.
Gerthoffer said Hilton Head Humane also has traps available for dogs and cats that are spotted but won't come when called.
"We are prepared for the ones that have gotten away to be picked up by someone and dropped off here so we can do some reuniting on the 5th," she said.
For people who take their pets to July 4 events, Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office had this reminder: It's illegal for dogs to be kept in cars in the heat, and leash laws are in effect in most places in the Lowcountry where July 4 celebrations are scheduled.