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Fireworks – time for a total ban?


Public feeling is running high over the trauma caused to countless animals
due to the misuse of fireworks.

CALLS FOR the Government to impose a total ban on the private retail sale of fireworks have rocketed in the past two months, as the nuisance and danger caused to animals and people by the reckless use of fireworks has increased alarmingly. Many campaigners, including MPs, pet owners and animal welfare organisations are also urging to Government to confine the use of fireworks to organised displays, with strict licensing conditions imposed, monitoring the use of fireworks to specified dates each year.

Taking one medium-sized city as an example of the kind of problems caused by fireworks just a week before Bonfire Night, police in Strathclyde, Scotland were called to nearly 2000 dangerous fireworks incidents – a figure reflected across many towns and cities across the UK.

A police spokesman said: "It is just sheer luck we've not had a serious injury in the past few weeks."

The reckless use of fireworks has led to 127 people being reported to the Procurator Fiscal, or children's panel.

Timebomb

The shocking figures came just days after the Glasgow Evening Times revealed a seven-tonne firework "timebomb" had been seized in a raid on a container depot on Glasgow's south side. The fireworks were found in four giant containers, described by the council as “a timebomb waiting to explode.” The city council reported that it had recovered a further 3.4 tonnes of fireworks from premises licensed to store only one-tonne.

In the past six weeks, Strathclyde Police have dealt with 1848 incidents involving dangerous behaviour with fireworks.

Luckily there have been no deaths or life-threatening injuries, but police said there had been numerous reckless acts by children - and adults.

Two men aged 18 and 21 were arrested in the Knightswood area for throwing fireworks at men working in a cradle 20 floors up a multi-storey block.

In Ayr, three of four incidents that led to arrests involved adults, the oldest being a 31-year-old man who threw a firework in Whitletts Road.

Officers recently revealed lit fireworks had been hurled at pedestrians and passing cars - and even dropped into the hood of a youngster's jacket.

As the sale of fireworks is largely unrestricted throughout the year, due to de-regulation laws passed some years ago, the menace caused by the indiscriminate use of fireworks at all time of the day and night, as well as their misuse by hooligans lasts for several weeks in the run up to Bonfire Night and often for some week afterwards.

Animals particularly suffer due to fireworks; either simply by the noise they make or by deliberate attacks on them involving thrown fireworks.

A MORI poll, commissioned by the RSPCA, shows 71 per cent of pet owners questioned thought loud fireworks should only be allowed at public displays – a sentiment backed by 78 per cent of adult RSPCA members and a staggering 87 per cent of young RSPCA members who took part in Society surveys.

Shocking

Pet owners are right to be concerned about the effect fireworks have on their animals, according to a shocking new RSPCA survey of vets in England and Wales. Last year 4,825 animals were treated for firework-related injuries and/or were prescribed sedatives because they were so frightened. Sixteen animals were put to sleep because of their injuries, and three animals were believed to be the victims of deliberate attacks.

To find out whether quieter fireworks could be the solution to the ‘fear’ problem, the RSPCA is now collating evidence on low noise fireworks. The Society aims to find a maximum noise level that is unlikely to cause distress to animals if welfare guidelines are followed. It will also look into whether a standard design of low noise firework can be manufactured to guarantee a maximum noise level.

Chris Laurence, the RSPCA’s chief veterinary officer, said: “We are horrified by the number of animals brought to us for emergency care as a result of firework injuries. But at the same time the Society recognises that people in the UK enjoy holding and attending firework displays. We would encourage them to attend public events where possible and we would welcome any effort by the industry to reduce the noise levels of fireworks sold for public use. If ‘quieter’ fireworks are used responsibly we hope people would still be able to enjoy the spectacle without the cost to pets and wildlife.

“Anyone with an anxious pet should seek advice from their vet. Dog owners can also seek their vet’s advice on a new pheromone treatment - the Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), aimed at reducing the sensitivity of the dog to noise.”

Petition

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is joining forces with local people to tackle nationwide abuse of fireworks. The charity is calling on readers to sign its own ‘Regulate Fireworks Now’ petition, which calls for an end to disruption and distress caused to guide dogs and their owners by fireworks.

Every year, guide dogs and other working dogs are forced to retire after being traumatised by the irresponsible use of fireworks. Others have to be sedated, and some even retrained, leaving their owners without mobility for weeks at a time. Guide Dogs receives regular reports on the damage and disruption caused to guide dog partnerships. Over recent years, as fireworks have become more widespread, the problem has escalated.

Like the RSPCA, Guide Dogs is calling for the licensing of firework retailers and organisers of public fireworks displays; limitation of noise levels; and the specifying of a limited number of dates in the public calendar around which fireworks can be sold. Outside of these times, sales to the public would not be permitted.

Guide Dogs is also urging MPs to consider introducing private members’ legislation to bring these common-sense safety measures into force.

Abuse

Guide Dogs’ Chief Executive Geraldine Peacock said: “Sudden loud noises can distress guide and other assistance dogs to such a degree that they are unable to continue working. This means the end of the extraordinary partnership that has taken many months and years to develop. With the day to day costs of training, feeding, insurance and vets’ bills running at about £10 a day per dog, the financial costs to Guide Dogs are huge."

Guide dog owner Derek Thorpe knows only too well the terrible effects of firework abuse. His guide dog Warwick had to be retired recently after a gang of youths aimed a firework directly at the dog’s face, both terrifying and injuring him. In the months after the attack, Warwick’s fear at any bang or sudden noise increased so dramatically that Derek was unable to take him anywhere. Even a train door slamming was enough to scare the dog to the extent that travelling became impossible. Warwick had to be retired prematurely.

Geraldine Peacock added: "We don’t want to ruin people’s fun, but we don’t want people’s lives ruined either."

Debate

As reported previously in OUR DOGS, there have been several attempts by MPs in recent years to have the private sale of fireworks banned, but a succession of Private members Bills and Five-Minute Rule Bills have all been quashed or have fallen during debate in the House of Commons.

Although the Firework Industry has agreed, after pressure from Consumer Minister Melanie Johnson to place a voluntary ban on the sale of air bombs – which are responsible for nearly half of all firework injuries in the street – and on small whistle/bang rockets from January 2003, many MPs – and pet owners – feel that this move does not go far enough.

The Home Office is also piloting fixed penalty notices of £40 in four areas for over 18s caught throwing fireworks in the street.

The announcement made last month coincides with the launch of a new hard-hitting national safety campaign. The campaign's slogan 'fool with fireworks and bang goes your image' will highlight the injuries teenagers have suffered from fireworks misuse.

Ms Johnson said: "We all want to enjoy the fireworks season, but too often this time of year is blighted by problems of fireworks misuse, noise and nuisance.

"It's vital we crack down on this problem, but also educate people to make sure they know the consequences of the anti-social use of fireworks.

However, as Nicola Finch, a disgruntled dog owner from Doncaster, South Yorkshire observed: "What’s the point of on-the-spot fines for adults when children throwing fireworks get away scot-free? Why not have the fines imposed on the parents or guardians of any minor caught throwing fireworks – assuming the police are actually bothered to respond to calls about firework nuisance that is."

David Crausby, Labour MP for Bolton North West has been campaigning for many years to have the private sale of fireworks banned. Earlier this year his own Private Members Bill to instigate such a ban was being considered by Parliament. Sadly, Mr Crausby’s Bill was lost, but he welcomed the Fireworks Industry’s voluntary action as a "step in the right direction".

"I think this is the ideal opportunity to restart the campaign to ban the private sale of fireworks," said Mr Crausby.

"I have long been concerned about the misuse of fireworks in the run up to and the period after 5th November. A number of people have spoken or contacted me regarding the banning of fireworks. One reason for this is because I am one of the few Members of Parliament that have been keen to back a ban.

Vocal

"Fireworks continue to be a problem for many, particularly with domestic pets and wildlife. I have been very vocal, not only in my own constituency of Bolton North West, but also on the Westminster stage, in calling for well publicised, organised displays only. I believe that this will create a safe environment for all to enjoy this event.

"I am not a killjoy but I am very concerned every year at the number of firework injuries and the public nuisance that the illegal use of fireworks can cause. I believe that the only way to deal with the nuisance of fireworks is to limit them to organised displays."

Teddy Taylor, the outspoken Conservative MP for Rochford and Southend East is also a long-time campaigner for the ban on private firework sales. He was unequivocal in his views on the matter, telling OUR DOGS this week: "Reforms on the sale of fireworks and voluntary restrictions on this or that firework are a complete waste of time. There are three main factors to consider about fireworks: The danger and injuries they can cause, the distress to elderly people due to the misuse of fireworks and the fear and harm caused to animals in the same way.

"I was the first MP to call for a ban on the private sale of fireworks and for their restriction to given days of the year. My own Bill was considered 18 months ago, but was not given the consideration it deserved.

"The fact is, proposals never stop problems. Strict control of fireworks is the only measure which will work and I will continue to call upon the Government to introduce a ban on the private sale and use of fireworks, and to introduce licensing conditions."

Whether the cross-party calls for action will be heeded by the Government in the next Parliamentary session however remains to be seen.

Dog Owners Call For Ban

As reported previously, the Firesides Bull Breeds Advisory Service in Bolton, which deals with rescue and rehoming of Bull breeds has also instigated petitions to restrict the use of fireworks, due to the injury and distress caused to dogs.

Founder Melanie Wilcock told OUR DOGS: "In the past few years, it’s just become absolute madness with fireworks. "So many of them are these loud air mortars which seem just designed to make as loud a noise as possible. Animals – especially dogs – get freaked out by them."

"Although I welcome the new firework agreement, I still feel it is not enough. The first tragedy this year has already occurred with an English Bull Terrier cross in Middleton, Manchester picking up a lit firework thrown at it with fatal consequences.

"A voluntary ban from within the Firework Industry is never going to be enough. A total ban on the private sale of fireworks is the only way that any measure of calm can be restored."

Although there is already a ban on the private sale of fireworks in Northern Ireland, Dieta Decker who lives in the Portaferry has plenty to say on how, generally speaking, such a ban works, although it can be – and is - circumvented without licensing arrangements and the continued unrestricted sale of fireworks on the UK mainland and in the Republic of Ireland.

"I do know that there are irresponsible people around in Northern Ireland, who get their friends and family members to send them fireworks from the UK or bring them up from the Republic. But I look at last year, before the ban took effect - from two weeks before Halloween to about a week into the New Year, fireworks were let off anywhere and everywhere here in Portaferry. They came whizzing round the garden, usually just when I had convinced my dog Rascal that it was safe to come out and go to the toilet - at one point I seriously considered trying to litter train her- they came whizzing down the street during walks, they could be heard till 4am and then again from 6am, I didn't feel safe going down the street and have had fireworks thrown in the direction of my car when driving .

Rascal and my cat Kitty Catkins were stressed out, with Rascal mainly living behind the settee and shaking constantly. It was not nice at all.

Phobic

"This year we have had two private firework displays - the licence costs £30 and has to be applied for four weeks in advance - and two bangers going off, where someone got a supply from England or Eire. I can live with that, even though the Rascal spent a few hours behind the settee and my other cat Lillie freaked and spent a few hours on top of the bookcase.

Compared to the way it used to be it's absolute and utter heaven. I can take the dogs for their walks without the fear of fireworks making them panic and run off, I can let Kitty Catkins out at night, no fireworks come across the garden and people who don't want to give to the Halloween ‘Trick or Treaters’ don't face the prospect of lit fireworks coming through their letterbox. The police are clamping down heavily on anybody letting off fireworks in the street and on unlicensed firework displays, so there is only very little of it.

Yes, there are people who will try and get fireworks from the UK or the Republic, but the ban is mostly working very well. Certainly people and pets are much happier for it!"

Dog trainer and well-known author Joyce Stranger from Anglesey comments: "I have around twenty dogs a week coming for lessons. Of these eight are firework phobic and the owners have a very tough time with them. One friend in Glasgow has gone for two weeks to a cottage in the wilds, as her dog does nothing but shiver and shake due to firework noise.

"These dogs are all breeds; GSDs, Goldies, terriers, cross breeds. One man shuts all windows, draws all the curtains and puts on Beethoven very loudly.

"One collie is almost out of her mind, she has to be sedated - completely put right out. Many collies are noise shy, and affected also by jet planes. We are around five minutes flying from RAF Valley. I am lucky as my nearest neighbours are two fields way and there are no children close by.

Trembling

"I hate fireworks anyway as they bring back memories of London Blitz...I hate bangs and they get louder every year. I thought there was a ban on the big bangs but doesn’t seem to operate."

Anne Mears, owner of two rescued dogs, Dixie, an 11 year-old Collie cross and Willow, a 5 year-old Lurcher-type, from East Coker in Somerset says: "My dog Dixie would have a far happier life were fireworks restricted to use only on Bonfire Night, and perhaps special licensed occasions, such as the Millennium. As the law stands now, people can let them off every night of the year should they so choose, and I cannot predict when we will have Dixie whining with fear, trembling and drooling, and trying to climb onto my lap, desperate to find somewhere to hide from the terrifying noises outside.

"I do the best I can for him, sedating him when the 5th of November is upon us, and trying various herbal and homeopathic remedies too at other times, but I can hardly sedate him every day of the year, nor should I have to. It's ridiculous selling explosive devices to members of the public, and in my view fireworks should only be available to organisers for special events."



The Facts

4,825 cases treated
16 animals euthanased owing to fireworks
3 deliberate attacks
86% of cases were dogs & 12% of cases were cats


RSPCA Animal Life readers questionnaire
- sent to adult members of the RSPCA

95% wanted fireworks to be used at licensed events only
87% would like the public sale & use of fireworks banned
78% would like only silent fireworks available for public use
89% said their pets were distressed by fireworks
77% said they would write to their MPs to urge them to support moves in parliament to control firework use

RSPCA Animal Life readers questionnaire
- sent to young members of the RSPCA

90% said they thought fireworks should be quieter
thought that only quiet fireworks should be used by the public
83% said they did not like fireworks with loud bangs
72% said their pets appeared to be scared by fireworks

The survey

444 vets responded
Results based on 1,003 interviews
1,051 adult members responded
241 young members responded