By Polly Keary, Editor
Airline pet crates are meant to be able to stand up to dogs that are both strong and frightened. But the large airline crate that held Mike, a 90-pound bulldog mix, was no match for that dog’s fear New Year’s Eve.
When his owners came home in the early evening after going to a movie, they found the crate’s front gate pried off, the barricaded cat-door frame wrenched out of the front door, and Mike gone.
Terrified by noisy fireworks in the east Monroe area, the animal fled, one of many to go missing that night. Unlike more fortunate animals, however, Mike never made it home.
“We’d only been gone for about two hours,” said Mike’s owner, Jennifer Johnston-Larsen. “We went to a 2:30 movie, and we got home before 6. And he was gone.”
Larsen and her family are dedicated and experienced pet owners. They have four dogs, and horses, too. When they leave home, all the dogs go into kennels, said Larsen. And that cat door was even barricaded for fear of an escaping kitten.
But the neighbors were lighting fireworks Larsen described as “bombs,” and Mike, a dog the family had adopted from a shelter late last July, panicked.
“I have no idea how he got through the crate,” she said.
Worried, the family went on a search, and also sought help from the community, posting about the missing dog on local Facebook pages.
The community responded, said Larsen.
“The networking on Facebook was amazing,” she said. “There were 200-300 shares and strangers came out to look for him. I was getting texts and calls from strangers. It was so amazing the outpouring of support from people. I think Monroe is awesome. There were people offering to pay for tracking dogs.”
But the man who owned the tracking dog, a service in Arlington, was sick, and also was overwhelmed with requests from pet owners whose animals had fled the noise that night.
So the family, friends and strangers did what they could, searching and calling, but Larsen already knew it was a long shot.
“People were saying maybe he’d come back to the house,” she said. But my neighbors were lighting dynamite; there’s no way. And he wouldn’t be able to hear us. We went up and down U.S. 2. Between the traffic, fireworks and train, there would be no way he could hear us.”
Then they got disheartening news. A man contacted them in the morning to tell them that his daughter had hit a dog that matched the description of Mike.
The Sheriff came out to help the family search, in hopes that the dog had only been injured, but when they found him, he was dead, killed instantly by the collision.
The family, which includes four kids, was devastated. After all, they’d saved Mike’s life not eight months earlier. When they’d agreed to foster him from a California shelter, he’d been one day from being euthanized.
Being able to get Mike’s body cremated and laid to rest helped, said Larsen. But she remains frustrated that her passion for safety couldn’t protect Mike.
“You don’t think of them getting out of a crate,” she said. “I’m neurotic about keeping the animals safe. They all get crated when we leave, no matter if we go to the barn or the store. I don’t want them to do anything. I’d rather not have any accidents. It was a hard blow. We do take such extra care. It’s frustrating. It’s humbling that, wow, it wasn’t enough.”
The family already has plans to rescue another bull dog and name it Gabriel so that between Mike and the new dog they will have had two pets named for guardian angels.
Larsen said she can’t think of a solution for the problems with pets and fireworks.
“What can you really do, but try to do the best you can in your own house?” she said. “I’ve learned my lesson. Obviously if an animal is panicked, they’ll figure something out. They aren’t messing around. They’ll break a window to get out. We definitely probably won’t go out on the 4th or on New Year’s as a family anymore.”
She also said she might explore the possibility of medicating the pets on the noisy holidays.
After New Year’s Eve, about 20 dogs and cats were posted as missing or found straying on the Facebook page Lost Dogs of Snohomish County, most due to fear of fireworks.
Tips for preparing pets for loud holidays:
1. Make sure your pets are microchipped and that those microchips are up to date.
2. Order a CD like Sounds Scary or another desensitizing CD well ahead of the event and play it for your pets to get them used to the noise.
3. Keep at least one light on, and dampen the noise as best you can with curtains, blankets or competing background sounds like music or the TV.
4. Pick one room and pet-proof it, pulling out all but the sturdiest furniture. Bring the pet’s favorite toys, get the room to a comfortable temperature, and try adding lavender-scented items, as lavender has soothing properties. Add a litter tray.
5. Keep yourself calm, too. Pets can pick up your stress.
6. Put food and water in with your pets.
7. Stay with your pet, if you can.
8. Give your pet free run of the house after the noise is over to see how your pet does before letting it out of the house again.
9. Make sure your yard is free of fireworks debris before letting your animal loose again.
10. Some owners swear by the soothing properties of Thunder Shirts; tight shirts that swaddle and calm some pets. And for the most skittish of animals, see your veterinarian about sedatives.