Assistance Dogs and Humans – a Great Partnership – until Humans let off Fireworks that Cause Distress to Dogs

According to Assistance Dogs UK, “Over 7,000 disabled people in the UK rely on an assistance dog to help with practical tasks – offering emotional support and independence.” These include guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for deaf people, assistance in disability and medical detection dogs. Additionally to the fully trained ones, many dogs support children with autism, people with dementia and people with mental health problems. 

In so many ways, dogs improve people’s wellbeing, health and make them less socially isolated. And yet despite all that they do for humans, we repay them by regularly letting off fireworks that cause distress to at least half of them. The latest obsession with fireworks is now throughout December, when people may go with all the family, including the dog member of the family, to a switch on the Christmas lights event. One lady went with her dog and fireworks were unknowingly let off, leaving the dog in fear of going out for weeks after. 

Most pet owners know of the terrible distress caused to animals because of fireworks. They don’t know what is happening, their hearing is more sensitive than ours and their fear can last for hours and days. All for a few minutes of very environmentally unfriendly chemicals and toxins thrown into the air for the sake of ‘fun’. 

An example of how this impacts someone who depends on her assistance dog, in order to live life as normally as possible, is Ellen Watson. Ellen works as a clerk in the House of Commons and shared a video of her lovely labrador, Skipp, shaking with fear after the colourful rockets went off when they were out walking. The fireworks went off in the late afternoon the day before bonfire night and left Skipp rooted to the ground, shaking with fear and Ellen’s safety was at risk. 

“This is my Guide Dog, on our way home from work at 5pm, rooted to the spot & shaking with fear after fireworks went off nearby. Not only do fireworks cause extreme distress for dogs & humans, they pose risk to disabled ppls safety. This has to stop. Fireworks NEED to be regulated

For Ellen, who is deaf blind after being diagnosed with Usher Syndrome, in order to fit around people’s random letting off of fireworks, Ellen had to change her work schedule and get home early on the days around fireworks. The challenge nowadays, is that these go on for months and now as per the example with Christmas lights, they are even in December and New Year – sometimes even Christmas Day. Shouldn’t society encompass everyone within it and be considerate of the needs of all? How wrong that Ellen has had to modify her life – which is already massively modified compared to how it was – in order to accommodate a few people letting off fireworks. We really need to start being more considerate. The general public needs to become more aware and therefore considerate of the impact of their actions.

At least half of pets, PLUS animals out in fields with no shelter are impacted by fireworks. Per our previous blogs, people with PTSD can suffer from them, as does the environment, through toxins and chemicals thrown into the air. It’s time to ban the sale of fireworks to the public in consideration of pets, assistance dogs, their humans, sufferers of PTSD and the environment. There are kinder, more considerate ways to celebrate and have fun. We don’t need to let them off at every opportunity – and particularly spontaneously when no one is prepared for them. 

So when you are organising Christmas lights, New Year, or a wedding, please consider the substantial number of people impacted by your desire to celebrate – and whether it’s worth it, for the few minutes of pleasure you have. If you know people organising any of the above, please ask them not to let off fireworks in consideration for most people who are against them. This obsession with fireworks at everything damages our world, the animals and many humans that live in it. Please be considerate.

85% of the British Public is Worried about Climate Change – yet we Assault the Environment with Chemicals and Metals from Fireworks…eh…?

Seems a bit of a contradiction…that we are concerned about the environment, yet we shoot metals, gases and chemicals into the environment. Friends of the Earth recently stated, “A new poll reveals that 85% of us, the British public, are worried about climate change. The urgency and concern rises year-on-year as time slips away to save our planet.”  Sir David Attenborough says we face, “Irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies ….It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.” On 1 May 2019, the UK Parliament declared a climate emergency, making the UK the first country to do so.

Michael Gell has been in touch with FAB about the impact of fireworks on the environment. Michael has a long and impressive wealth of experience in science and the environment, which you can read more about. Over the years, he has provided expert advice on national environmental pilot programmes and design and operation of greenhouse gas disclosure platforms. In 2009 he was a member of the World Economic Forum Task Force on Low Carbon Economic Prosperity. In his blogs, which warn of the environmental emergency we are in, he says that we are at a key decision time for humankind. We can either carry on how we are and destroy the planet and cause lots of suffering for humans and animals. Or we can radically change the way we live – across all areas of life – and have a chance of saving the one planet we all share. Now is our last chance. 

If you find the reality of the environmental situation we are in disturbing and depressing, the good news is that IF we change, according to Michael, we do have a chance. “The choice being faced is …to choose uninhabitability of the earth, or to mobilise and make a sharp turn by slamming the brakes on greenhouse gas emissions, putting a stop on the ransacking and poisoning of the earth and designing and building the necessary systems (technological, economic, behavioural, social, etc) in a last chance pitch for survival.” 

And for those of you that won’t read further – one way we can do that is by stopping the use of fireworks, whose metals, gunpowder, chemicals and packaging pollute and damage our environment. It’s an easy decision. For everyone else, please read on. It’s important. 

Michael explains that there are different bodies or people that impact change – central government, local government, industries and citizens for example. The good news for us all is that citizens can drive the changes that governments and industries need to make – and already for example, people eating less meat is forcing businesses to produce more plant-based food.  Just look at the supermarkets, how their shelves are filling with the new products. They are being led by citizens.

So we have 10 years to make many of the changes that are necessary. And right here, right now, we could easily remove a pollutant – fireworks – and find more environmentally friendly ways to have fun and celebrate – one for you to think about the next time you are thinking of letting that firework off – at your wedding, party or new year celebration – just consider the impact you are having on the future of our planet. An article in BBC Science Focus says, “Though beautiful, fireworks pollute the atmosphere so may not be the most green choice of entertainment.” 

The article states, “Fireworks propel a cocktail of chemicals into the atmosphere, many of which can harm both people and the environment. The vivid colours in firework displays come from metallic compounds such as barium or aluminium that can have negative impacts on animal and human health.” It goes on to explain that in order to create an explosion, you need a lot of oxygen, so many fireworks contain oxidisers known as perchlorates. These can contaminate rivers, lakes and drinking water. If our rivers and lakes are contaminated, that affects anything living in, dependent on or drinking from the river. Fish, ducks, swans, deer and more. And the water goes downstream and into our oceans, carrying the problem even further.

Michael Gell points out that a DEFRA report acknowledged the impact of fireworks. “Best estimates of emissions of air pollutants from use of fireworks are as follows: Copper 2.8 tonnes (6% of emissions in 2000), Potassium 100 tonnes (9.3% of emissions in 2000), Sodium 5.5 tonnes (0.5% of emissions in 2000), Magnesium 73 tonnes (7.6% of emissions in 2000), Barium 65 tonnes, Strontium 9.9 tonnes, Aluminium 86 tonnes, Titanium 5.3 tonnes, Carbon dioxide 160 tonnes (trivial), Carbon monoxide 120 tonnes (trivial)”. This was over 10 years ago and fireworks have increased exponentially since then. It is worth noting that climate emissions are also associated with the extended lifecycle of fireworks – from manufacturing (often in China), shipping, sales and of course emissions from emergency, health, veterinary and other (e.g. building repair) services required to address the aftermath of their use.

The Scottish government’s Safer Communities Directorate has in October this year, published information on the impact of fireworks – on health, the environment and noise effects: “Short term health effects may include asthma attacks, coughs, fever and severe asthma, and even pneumonia (Hirai et al., 2000). Longer term health effects may also include respiratory and cardiovascular system diseases, and an increased risk of cancer. …High build-up of metal elements through both fine and coarse particulate matter in the body can adversely affect human health.” If it does this to humans – where more time and effort on research is spent, think what it is doing to all the wildlife breathing in the air we pollute for them? And what all of that is doing to plants, water, trees that protect us…

The Directorate says, “There is some evidence from outwith Scotland to suggest that restricting firework use could benefit the environment by reducing pollution from fireworks emissions as well as secondary fires.” Repeat – we are in a climate emergency – and restricting fireworks would benefit the environment by reducing pollution. Got it? They are not good. We can live without them. No brainer.

An ITV article on 5th November 2019 also refers to the toxicity of fireworks. “Bonfires and fireworks send November 5 air pollution levels soaring, study suggests.” It refers to a study where thousands of sensors take readings of particulate matter. “A study in Newcastle and Gateshead found that in 2018, pollution levels were four times higher in the evening of Bonfire Night than they were earlier in the day.” We already have issues with our air quality, and yet the article states, the pollution levels rise to “Eight times the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe limit of 10 micrograms/m3.” 

Do I need to go on? We are in a crucial point in the history of our earth, when every one of us can make a difference by our decisions, behaviours and actions. And for our consciences, we have to. Fireworks pollute the air, the particles release metallic substances and chemicals into the environment, covering our trees, going into our rivers and lakes and into oceans – contaminating the world we live in – that we have 10 years to protect. Isn’t it time to simply remove this pollutant and stop letting off fireworks?  In 2019 Sainsbury’s became the first major supermarket to stop selling fireworks at its 2,300 stores across the UK.  Given that the UK government has declared a climate and ecological emergency, wouldn’t a sensible action be to ban fireworks…

It’s time for we human beings to be drastically more considerate of the environment, stop abusing it and the natural world. To stop behaving like nothing else is impacted by our actions. It’s time to be considerate and ban fireworks! 

The Fireworks Campaign (FAB) is releasing a series of blogs and images on the impact of fireworks. You can find out more and read about the effects of fireworks on war veterans and other PTSD sufferers and please share these with anyone you know, to help spread the awareness of their dreadful impact.

Why those who keep you safe deserve your consideration: How fireworks affect many PTSD sufferers

“Oh, it’s for fun,” is what we often hear by those supportive of fireworks. Weddings, parties, concerts throughout the year, as well as October to January for Diwali, Guy Fawkes and New Year. But for thousands of people across the UK, it is completely the opposite and far from fun. A few minutes of ‘fun’ for a relatively small number of people can cause months of distress for thousands of others, as you will read below. We will cover many of the people affected in a series of blogs –  some sufferers of PTSD, dementia, some on the autism spectrum, with anxiety, some living with fibromyalgia, hyperacusis and more. But today we will look at many people who suffer from PTSD and some war veterans, who suffer dreadfully from the sounds and smells of fireworks.

What is PTSD and who can be affected?

1 in 10 people in the UK develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to PTSD UK. So in a small to medium town of 20,000 people, that is 2,000 people. In your road with say 100 people living in it, you could have 10 people living with PTSD and who may be impacted by your actions. We have examples of people, who got in touch with us who are terribly affected by fireworks. Each bang can take them back to the trauma they initially experienced and make them anxious and extremely agitated, sometimes reduced to tears. So read on to understand more and why you are not being the ‘fun police’ when standing up to fireworks. You are being considerate and standing up for 1 in 10 people affected by a traumatic event – let alone many others, as we mentioned above.

According to PTSD UK, “PTSD is essentially a memory-filing error caused by a traumatic event and can affect anyone who has been exposed to a traumatic event. The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death and therefore can affect anyone. Examples of traumatic events include serious accidents such as road traffic accidents, being told you have a life-threatening illness, bereavement, violent personal assault, such as a physical attack, sexual assault, robbery, or mugging, military combat, a terrorist attack..” and more. 

The charity states examples of how many people are affected: 1 in 5 firefighters, 70% of rape victims, 2 in 3 Prisoners of War, 40% of people who experienced a sudden death of a loved one, and an estimated 10,000 women a year following a traumatic childbirth.

So why is it relevant for us to be considerate of people who suffer from PTSD in our choices around fireworks?

Sufferers of PTSD can often find it difficult to tolerate certain sounds and some sounds provoke fear. Additionally, triggers can give flashbacks to a traumatic event which was experienced. PTSD UK in its blog on flashbacks says, “When you experience something really traumatic, your body suspends ‘normal operations’ and temporarily shuts down some bodily functions such as memory processing. During trauma, your brain thinks ‘processing and understanding what is going on right now is not important! Getting your legs ready to run, your heart rate up, and your arms ready to fight this danger is what’s important right now, I’ll get back to the processing later.’” So the brain suspends the event but recalls the sensory information around that – like we can often remember where we were or what we were doing when something important in our lives happened. You might remember what you were eating, drinking, what you could smell, hear and so forth and often for PTSD sufferers, the blog explains, when you hear or smell similar things again, it takes you back and your body and mind goes into the fight or flight response it had to deal with then. Taking you back and re-living the trauma. Time and time again. 

This month of November, we take time to acknowledge and be grateful for, the sacrifices that the current and previous armed forces take and have taken for us – to keep us safe. We wear poppies in respect and gratitude. Many have sacrificed their lives in doing so but many still live, but with the trauma of what they faced always with them. When a group of people wants to ‘have fun’ and not be limited from that, in letting fireworks off, they can be reminding and making some war veterans re-live the trauma they experienced. 

This year, walking with the wounded posted a blog. “Remember, remember our veterans on the fifth of November. While fireworks and bonfires are used to celebrate Guy Fawkes and Diwali, for some, the loud bangs and smells can trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress…For some veterans, the smells, sights and sounds of Bonfire night are all too similar to those experienced in combat.”

Here is an example where the wife of a war veteran explains how fireworks affect her husband:

“My husband is a war veteran. He served in the Welsh Guards for 22 years and sustained life-changing injuries in the Falklands War. He actually died on the runway at Port Stanley airstrip. He received CPR from a colleague and thankfully he was resuscitated, but because of the lack of oxygen to his brain, he has brain injury and back problems and lost his leg below the knee. Part of his left foot was also blown away. This happened when a harrier jet accidentally fired the sidewinder missiles it was carrying. So as you can imagine, loud bangs affect him. He becomes very agitated and shaking, breaks out in a cold clammy sweat and is reduced to tears. It’s pitiful to see a grown strong man reduced to tears due to the noise of fireworks. We put the television on very loud, but I can see by his face it really gets to him. When these fireworks are going off all the time, it is terrible to watch him. I really think they should be banned on the street and only used in an organised event.”

Here is another example:

I would like to give you an insight as to how Firework Season impacts on the life of myself and my husband who suffers from Complex Combat PTSD & Enduring Personality Change After Catastrophic Reaction after serving ten years in the Armed Forces. Please note the term Firework Season as it just seems to get longer and longer with each passing year, then just when you think it’s safe, along comes New Years Eve and we start all over again. He lives ‘safely’ in his bubble he has created to not only protect him but to protect us around him. Suddenly his bubble is no longer safe, as all around him at any given time are fireworks. It’s not only the sound or the flash. It’s the smell and if close enough the feel of them going off. Firework Season for my husband means there is added anxiety, hyper vigilance and anxiety-induced incontinence, less sleep, more nightmares and flashbacks. He doesn’t eat when he’s anxious, due to the PTSD and anxiety he now also suffers with GORD. All we ask is that you consider the idea that it be organised displays only and only for a limited period around Guy Fawkes. At least the people like my husband and those with pets can at least be prepared.”

So to be clear, war veterans sacrificed what their life was, for us and to keep us safe – and we think people are being ‘fun police’ and ruining their fun of a few minutes by letting off fireworks that cause immense distress, make them feel unsafe and make them re-live that painful experience..? Just think about that one for a moment. Is the balance of a few moments of ‘fun’, versus immense distress and trauma re-lived – for people whose life is radically changed because of trying to protect you and those around you – really worth it? Really? If, while you are standing drinking mulled wine, enjoying the loud bangs and colours, you could have a live video stream to people who might be cowering in their house, might that change your behaviour? And might thinking about this make you take action – pass this blog on, tell more people about it, write to your MP once the election is over?

Jamie suffers from PTSD . He was involved in an electrical explosion 10 years ago and 45% of his body was covered in flames and burnt. One bang from a firework can take him back to that traumatic and life-threatening event. You can watch his video here of his views on fireworks and how they affect him and also his dogs:

“It took me years to recover from that physically. Mentally, I can be taken back there in a flash. All it takes is someone thoughtlessly letting off a firework without me knowing and I am back there. Think about those people who fought for our country, who have been fighting – war, gunshots, bombs. With fireworks, you can be taking people right back to that moment.”

Amanda’s daughter suffers from PTSD:

“Basically where I live, the fireworks have been going off since October at all hours and my kids can’t take it anymore. My daughter has PTSD, ADHD and sensory issues. I can’t even get her from school to my house at 3.20pm. The fireworks are booming away and I’m physically walking her home with my hands over her ear defenders whilst also trying to stop my son from running off because he’s also scared. My child should not have to sleep with ear defenders on or have night terrors because of these fireworks.  And round here it’s teenagers letting them off too. I have signed every petition I can find for the past 6 years and I’m totally fed up with it all. My daughter will have a breakdown if this carries on.”

People letting off loud fireworks sometimes say, “Oh well no one complained so we will carry on,” but often people can’t or don’t want to keep complaining, as they feel bad to ‘ruin’ other people’s fun. Or they see they are helpless and can’t change it. Isn’t it time for the rest of us to speak out for them and say, ‘Hey, we can sacrifice a little ‘fun’ to make your lives better. We have plenty of ways to enjoy ourselves, that is more considerate of others.’

We know there are so many of you and my heart goes out to you for the distress that the inconsideration of others causes you. Many recent surveys/polls have shown 80 to 90% support for changes in regulations in the UK. Behaviour needs to change and people be aware that fireworks are inconsiderate, as well as the law changing so they can’t go off much and their impact limited. But for behaviour and the law to change, each person reading this blog needs to share it, tell others about it, write to their local MP once they are back, write to people doing displays etc.

By doing so, you are being considerate and respectful. People can enjoy themselves in quieter, less distressing, less polluting ways. Let’s be a considerate society that considers all humans within it, as well as all animals with whom we share this planet and the natural environment.  

#notpartofthejob #banfireworks