This is the holiday weekend pet-lovers, animal shelters and emergency veterinary clinics dread. That's because the Fourth of July may mean picnics and fireworks, but it also means scared, injured and lost pets.
You can almost eliminate most of the risk to your animals, though, by taking a few basic precautions:
* Check your pet's ID. Make sure your pet is wearing a collar,
and that the collar has current tags on it. I recommend leaving the animal's name and your address off the tag and instead using the word "Reward" followed by as many phone numbers as you can fit. There are pet thieves out there, unfortunately, and there's no need to invite return business by giving them more information than a person needs to return a pet.
Some people are nervous about leaving collars on their cats, fearing the animal may hang itself jumping, but animal-control officials note that more cats die for lack of a collar -- euthanized as an unidentified stray.
It's too late for this holiday weekend, but I recommend taking the concept of IDs a bit further, with a tattoo, or a microchip if shelters in your area have the ability to scan pets. Tattoo clinics are held on a regular basis in most areas and more and more veterinarians offer microchipping.
* Bring your pets inside, and make their lodgings escape-proof. Panicked pets have been known to break through fences and throw themselves through windows and sliding-glass doors in response to loud noises. Outdoor pets should be brought in, to the garage at the very least; others may be most comfortable spending the couple of hours after nightfall on the Fourth in protective carriers.
If know your pet will be miserable the whole weekend through, call your veterinarian this morning and ask about tranquilizers.
* Find out what your options are if your pet has a medical emergency. Is your veterinarian available for after-hours emergency care? Find out now, and if he or she doesn't provide that service, locate the nearest emergency veterinary clinic and put the number on your family's list of important numbers.
* Be prepared for the loss of your pet. You'll need clear pictures to put on a "wanted" poster if your pet ever disappears.
If you lose your pet, don't waste time figuring it will find its way home: Distribute fliers and enlist your friends' and neighbors' help in the search as soon as you realize the animal is missing. Place newspaper ads right away, and check all shelters personally every other day.
* Leave your dog at home. Even the most well-mannered pet can become unnerved by fireworks. And a frightened dog may bolt -- or bite. Don't take the chance of either happening with your pet.
These few common-sense precautions will all but guarantee a safe holiday for your pet, which will allow you the peace of mind to enjoy the long weekend.