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Volunteers Are Skipping Fireworks to Cuddle Scared Shelter Dogs — And Sharing Their Best Tips to Calming Your Pet’s Shaking, Too

Sherry Silk, CEO of the Humane Society of Tampa, Florida, logged on to the shelter’s website, mentally crossing her fingers. Please, let someone want to lend a helping hand to make this a good night for the animals, her heart whispered.

Every year, on the 4th of July, while people oohed and ahhed at fireworks bursting in air, animals in the shelter cowered in fear. Their hearts aching for their furry charges, a few years ago, Sherry and her co-workers decided to stay after hours on the 4th of July and sit with the animals who often shudder and shake uncontrollably as the booms rain down.

They cuddled them, softly talked to them and played music to drown out the loud noise. Their comfort made such a difference that, the next year, Sherry decided to invite the community to join them.

Sherry Silk, CEO of the Humane Society in Tampa, Florida, with her own rescue pup

To Sherry’s joy, her inbox was filled with offers to spend the holiday at the shelter.

Those poor babies. Of course, I’ll help, people messaged.

Hugs to the rescue

That July 4th, the mood was festive as 23 volunteers of all ages came flowing through the doors. There was a table area set up with pizza, salad and sodas, as a way of saying “thank you” to those giving their time.

Jazz music played to soothe the animals and drown out the loud booms and the drapes were drawn so the flashes of light in the sky wouldn’t cause any distress. As the sun set and pops began to echo outside, volunteers jumped into action—some even crawling into kennels with the animals.

A volunteer hugging away anxiety

They wrapped the nervous dogs in soft and comfy patriotic towels. “You’re okay,” soft voices soothed, hugging the dogs and cats close. Soon trembling bodies gave way to wagging tails, playful nuzzles and contented purrs.

The night of love was such a spectacular success, the shelter made it an annual event.

“On the Fourth of July, animals don’t have the best experience,” says Jenny Mun, who along with her daughter, was a comfort volunteer last year. “That night, the animals just melted into our arms. It was such a wonderful experience for the animals and us,” she says. “I’d definitely sign up to do this again.”

Cats need comforting too

Sherry loves hearing that and has no plans to end the program. She also hopes to raise awareness to the jarring effects fireworks have on pets and encourages pet owners to take steps to comfort their own beloved dogs and cats by closing blinds, playing music and holding them close.

As for the kind people who choose to spend their Independence Day comforting the shelter animals, Sherry is greatly touched and deeply grateful.

“We are so very fortunate to have volunteers who care so much for the animals,” she beams. “I know the animals appreciate them too. If they could talk, they would give each and every volunteer a heartfelt thank you!

How to comfort your pet during fireworks

Put on d-i-y calming wrap

If all the loud booms and bangs of summer celebrations make your sweetie whiny and nervous, soothe him instantly with a body wrap. And instead of spending $30 or more on a pricey anxiety vest from the pet store, make your own at home with an ACE bandage.

To do: Place the middle of an elastic bandage over your pup’s chest and cross both ends over his back and then under his belly and back up around his back again; tie to secure. Researchers say that the wrap’s maintained pressure stimulates the dog’s body receptors, helping him regain focus and let go of anxiety, so you can all enjoy the fireworks. 

Soothe stress with an essential oil collar

A few minutes before the fireworks begin, place 5 to 10 drops of a pure essential oil with calming benefits, like NOW Foods Jasmine Essential Oil ($8 for 1 oz., amazon.com), all around her ­collar. As your pup breathes in the scent, it will help settle her frayed nerves so she can relax and you can go back to celebrating. 

Give kitty a place to hide

Whiskers gets so skittish this time of year and tries to hide in places you’d rather she avoid. Help her feel more secure and keep her safe with an easy hidey-hole bag.

To do: Take a brown paper grocery bag, crush some catnip between your fingers and rub it on the inside of the bag. Then place the bag in a quiet, dimly lit room or a closet with the door ajar. The catnip smell will entice her, while being enclosed in the bag will make her feel protected until the loud outdoor celebrations subside. 

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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