Ah, the 4th of July—picnics, boating, sunshine (we hope), celebration and argh—fireworks! This time of year I tend to get more calls from folks wanting to know how to resolve the noise phobia in their dogs, and we tend to see more stories in the media noting that more pets get lost on the 4th of July than any other time.
We have conducted a couple of surveys focused on lost pets—and have found that there are a couple of clear patterns. Dogs and cats seem to get lost at similar rates, and more dogs are recovered than cats.
What we did not find in the surveys was that the 4th of July is a significant driver for losing a pet. While 12% of dogs and 11% of cats were lost in a severe weather event around that time period, we did not have folks reporting their pet was lost because of 4th of July celebrations. Now, that is not to say that pets do not panic and run off during fireworks– just that it is not a major reason folks identified. We also asked what time of year the pet was lost, and found that pets were lost during every season at just about equal rates. The takeaway for me is that pets get lost every single day—for all sorts of reasons—and while the 4th of July might be a nice day to message caution around losing a pet, the data suggests other factors being stronger drivers.
I have written about this a couple of times here, and have been met with a bit of skepticism…okay, more than a bit. Last year we pulled the data on stray animals and RTOs from our CARDS database and found that for cats, the biggest month for strays ending up at shelters is May. For dogs, July – the month containing both the 4th and the month with a high probability of storms—was highest, followed closely by October. We thought it would be interesting to run the numbers again this year, and thanks to the nimble work of the ASPCA R&D department’s Hugh Mulligan, here they are.
For felines, just as last year, more stray cats come to the shelters in our system in May over any other month. Return-to-owner rates are very low every month, but the two highest months are December and January at 5% - these two months are among the lowest intake months as well. The data, just as we found last year, does not point to the 4th itself as a high driver of intake.
For dogs, we found once again that July is the highest intake month, followed by August, September and June. While this data does not point to a cause for pets running at large (it may be something other than the festivities on the 4th driving the increase in stray intake), more dogs do enter in July. Also, just as last year, the RTO rate is not higher in July. That’s puzzling – if the 4th was the only cause for the increase, one might expect a higher RTO rate for July, reasoning that the population of stray dogs entering the shelter would have a higher number of dogs who had people looking for them. As I noted last year, could it be that the increase is due to unowned dogs (abandoned or lost weeks or months previously) who are flushed out by the fireworks?
In the second survey we conducted around lost pets a couple years ago, we also learned that many people lost their pet in a manner that they did not anticipate. In fact, 65% of them reported that the way they lost their pet was not something they had thought could happen. Stuff happens—pets get lost, every day of the year. More of those lost pets can get back home without entering a shelter if pet owners can be empowered with the tools to help ensure they are prepared and know how to respond if their pet is lost. The ASPCA’s Lost Pet app is a great tool to empower the pet owners in your community—take a peek here.
So what does it all mean? In digging into the various pieces of data I think the biggest takeaway… the big bang… is that “Stuff” happens—and that dogs and cats can be lost every day. And the 4th of July is indeed a day in which stuff happens, too.
Emily Weiss, PhD, CAAB
ASPCA Vice President, Research & Development
Dr. Emily Weiss’ work at the ASPCA involves developing programs and processes that focus on impact on animal welfare. In her previous work as a behaviorist, she developed training programs to improve husbandry and decrease stress for many zoo animals. She has also developed assessment tools for shelter animals, including the SAFER assessment and Meet Your Match Canine-ality, Puppy-ality and Feline-ality. Dr. Weiss is co-editor of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, and has published and lectured extensively in the field of applied animal behavior.
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