Whilst many of us love the colour and noise of fireworks, many of our animals do not. There are stories of all sorts of animals being injured and distressed by fireworks, but dogs, with their sensitive hearing, have surely been some of the worst affected.
In my own home area, it frequently seems that neighbours are trying to re create the Battle of The Somme day and night.
However, hope does seem to be on the horizon with the passing of the Fireworks Bill. This will give the Government the powers it needs to introduce effective regulations covering the importation, sale, labelling and possession of fireworks. And, vitally, the Fireworks Act (as it now is) will set limits on the times of day when fireworks can be used and on upper noise levels for publicly available fireworks. It will also require public fireworks displays to be properly licensed, ensuring, we hope, that organisers inform local people well in advance of any fireworks events.
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, welcomed the new law, saying: "This new law is very welcome indeed. It has been a long time coming and, whilst it cannot satisfy everyone, it is a major step towards protecting our dogs from the worst of the fireworks noise."
These measures are long overdue and it is a sign of the immense skill and hard work put in by Bill Tynan MP, who introduced the bill to parliament, that it has survived at all. Since 1997, there have been three bills aiming to tackle fireworks, with only this latest succeeding.
For Guide Dogs, that success was vital. As firework use has increased in recent years, so has the harm done to guide dogs.
Every year, the association is forced to prematurely retire some dogs and retrain many others. This means that their owners are left without the independence and mobility a guide dog offers them. It also means an annual six figure bill for Guide Dogs which, because the charity receives no statutory funding, has to be paid out of voluntary income." On top of that, like thousands of other dogs up and down the UK, large numbers of guide dogs have to be sedated to help them cope with the din.
That the bill did succeed is due in no small part to the immense levels of public support it received. Bill Tynan introduced his private members bill as a result of his own and constituents serious concerns about fireworks, and following requests from The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Guide Dogs, and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), supported the bill from the outset and joined with a number of other charities to form the Animal Welfare Fireworks Coalition. Pooled resources and amplified voices showed that the voluntary sector was determined to all it could to ensure success, as well as demonstrating the breadth of concern. Guide Dogs, Blue Cross, NCDL, RSPCA, Wood Green Animal Shelters, Battersea Dogs Home, the Pet Care Trust and the Kennel Club formed the core of the coalition, but the campaign was also supported by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Endangered Dogs and hundreds of members of other dog-related organisations.
In addition, a huge number of other animal charities, local authorities, organisations of medical and emergency services personnel and, crucially, the fireworks industry itself. The hundreds of thousands of names added to petitions on the subject, combined with the thousands of letters received by MPs increased the pressure further.
Overall, the campaign was a fine demonstration of how diverse organisations with joint aims can achieve so much more together than they can apart.
So what now? Well, the Department for Trade and Industry, whose responsibility it now is enact the legislation, will be drawing up the draft regulations before going out to consultation with them. Here is one last opportunity to ensure that the regulations actually do provide the protection we are all looking for: to ensure that louder fireworks dont get into the wrong hands; to set a reasonable time of the evening after which fireworks must not be used; and to set a noise limit which offers the most protection possible for our dogs.
Finally, we must press the DTI to ensure that the regulations are drawn up and brought into force as fast as possible. Its no good having a law on the statute books that has no effect on those it aims to protect.
That said, we must recognise that the passing of the Fireworks Bill is a major victory: for Bill Tynan; for Baroness Ramsay, who saw the bill through the House of Lords; for charity campaigning and, most of all, for our dogs and all other animals.
In conclusion, it is amazing what can be achieved when groups, particularly in the world of dogs work together. Eventually, it is hoped that the new legislation will benefit not just dog owners, but all those with or even without animals for whom the noise, etc, is becoming intolerable.
An unusual request to readers. Guide Dogs has often tried breeds other that the Labrador, Golden Retriever and GSD. One that we have had some success with in the past has been the Curly Coated Retriever. If any breeders may be interested in working in collaboration with us we would be very interested to hear from them.
Please phone 01926-651226 and ask for either Simon, Mathew or Neil or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org