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October 12, 2004 > Halloween - Out of Harm's Way

Halloween - Out of Harm's Way

by Nancy Lyon

It's a strange human quirk that warnings and alerts always seem to apply to the other guy. Last year, in this period just before Halloween, a friend and I were discussing the upcoming holiday and the potential dangers to our animal companions. We parted in agreement that we would have to be very careful regarding not only their safety, but the hazards presented to a generally unaware public, especially celebrating children on that night

Needless to say, shortly after Halloween, I met up with the same person on his way to pick up his dog at the veterinary office. Seems he had left his steady, older dog alone in the backyard on Halloween to go to a party. His dog just wasn't the kind to be affected by the noise -- right!

The end result was that unusual party noise from a new neighbor had caused such anxiety in the normally stable dog that he went over the fence, severely breaking his leg in the process. Had he been on a tether, death from strangulation could easily have been the result. The point being, precautions should apply to all animals. Unfamiliar and unexpected happenings may trigger a response that is totally different from their normal behavior and provoke fear-based actions that are totally out of character.

When it comes to life threatening hazards to our companion animals, Halloween is right up there with July 4th and New Year's Eve. It's important to remember that even the most socialized animals can be very upset by strangers banging on the door, wearing costumes and behaving in a loud manner. This strange behavior from a dog's perspective can often be interpreted as threatening to territory and his beloved family.

If you are planning a holiday party in your home, and monitoring the interaction of guests and resident animals is going to be difficult, you might consider making overnight boarding arrangements with a qualified boarding kennel or with your veterinarian.

I'm sure you will recall the recent sad case of Bubba the Dalmatian. It points to the fact that even the steadiest of animals with no past history of aggression, can be startled or provoked into an uncharacteristic behavior. Excited and loud children or adults, and unsupervised family animals can be a disastrous combination.

Keep in mind that what may be a festive event to humans is often full of frightening and dangerous events when family animals are concerned. They depend on us to act responsibly and protect them. By adhering to the following safeguards you can minimize those dangers.

Keeping Out of Harm's Way

If boarding your companion animal is not an option, the next best solution is to confine your animal friend in a quiet room; away from unsettling noise and confusion. A dog or cat escaping through the front door during treat collecting or from other related celebrations can dart into traffic and suffer injury or death. Some escape in terror and are never seen again.

Not all the risks to companion animals come from noisy celebrants. Easy access to tasty if forbidden treats collected by children can provide dogs with an irresistible opportunity to gulp down candy. Unfortunately, chocolate is extremely toxic to dogs and can prove fatal, and candy wrappers and foil if swallowed can cause serious digestive upset. The best course of action is to make sure all treats are inaccessible to your dog.

Be careful of a candle lit Jack O'Lantern. Curious animals can overturn them and be burnt or may knock it over and cause a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned.

Don't dress your dog or cat in costume unless you know he or she loves it. Otherwise, it puts too much stress on the animal. If you do dress up your animal friend, make sure the costume isn't annoying or unsafe. It should not constrict the animal's movement, hearing or ability to breathe or bark. Also, there should not be small, dangling, or easily chewed-off pieces on the costume that could make him choke. Be careful not to obstruct their vision. Even the sweetest animal can get snappy when he or she can't see. Just as you would a child in costume, keep them safely away from lighted candles.

Preventing accidents is the only way to protect animals and children. And as my friend discovered, veterinary costs can be hard on your purse.

Pranksters and Worse

Don't leave your pet out in the yard on Halloween. There are plenty of stories of vicious pranksters who have teased, injured, stolen, and some have even killed pets on this night.

On All Hallows Eve, black animals are especially at risk from individuals who practice ritual animal sacrifice - unfortunately this is a reality. Be very aware of this and protect yours animals from theft for a week or so before and on Halloween night. It's always a dangerous practice to allow your cat to roam freely and it is especially so during this period. The danger to black (and solid white) pets is not just a scary story and because of this many animal shelters and rescues will not adopt out animals of this coloration until after the holiday.

When All Fails

The bottom-line is that while following all safety precautions the worst may still happen. Make sure your dog or cat is wearing proper identification and micro-chipped if possible. If for any reason they escape and become lost, you increase the chances that they will be returned to you. Contact your local animal shelter as soon as possible and ask for advice in finding your lost family member. Don't wait hoping they will "show up". Time is not on their side and delay could cost them their lives.

You may contact Ohlone Humane Society for information on finding your lost companion animal at 510-792-4580.

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