Fireworks action: will Scotland lead the way?

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Firework season
Image by McLee on Pixabay

Writing about fireworks and pets is an exercise in frustration.

Each year, millions of pet owners across the UK have to watch their beloved pets struggle for endless weeks: firework season kicks off on Bonfire Night – the bangs and flashes certainly do make the date impossible to forget – and continue for nearly two months, culminating with New Year’s eve.

Pre-planned, public displays are no fun for frightened pets, but at least they can be planned for to try and mitigate their fright. But how do you plan for sudden bangs that can ring out at any time of the day over the course of at least two months, causing your dog to become frightened without notice?

This year, much like every year before, change doesn’t seem to be forthcoming in England

You simply cannot. Each year, we listen to stories of pets who suddenly bolted and were hit by vehicles, or were never found again; of pets who died of sheer fright, or hurt themselves trying to get away from noises coming from everywhere at once. Many are left to cower in fear in a corner, shaking and drooling until it is all over; in a particularly heartbreaking case, a dog jumped through a window in sheer terror despite all of the owners’ precautions, and was later fatally hit by a vehicle.

Of course, this is only the part concerning pets; you probably don’t need us to tell you how upsetting the loud bangs and sudden flashes can be to people with PTSD or any sort of sensory issues.

Nearly each year, we see at least a petition calling for limits to be placed on the sales of fireworks to the general public reaching Westminster. The Petitions Committee’s 2019 report found that current fireworks laws are ‘inadequate’; yet what follows is the same conversation, over and over: a British version of Groundhog Day.

Parliamentary fireworks: MPs finally listen to pet owners

Yes, MPs understand the plight of pet owners. Why, they’re pet owners themselves! Here’s a chunk of their intervention entirely devoted to telling us about their dog. Have they mentioned they love their dog very much? Indeed they do! They understand the pain, the despair of people who watch their pets suffer.

Yes, it is awful – yes, of course they also care about people who are affected – but no, there is no need for any legislation restricting the sale of fireworks. Our current legislation is certainly enough. How come you keep signing the same petitions in the thousands each year while we have legislation which is absolutely already working? You gaggle of fun-hating socialists! (Looking at you, Jacob Rees-Mogg).

This year, much like every year before, change doesn’t seem to be forthcoming in England; indeed, in the midst of the political turmoil, even the Government’s flagship Kept Animals Bill has been repeatedly pushed to the sidelines. In Scotland, however, something significant has happened: the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill passed following a Scottish Parliament debate, introducing “a fireworks licensing system, with mandatory safety training, for people wishing to purchase and use fireworks”.

“This ground-breaking new legislation will improve the lives of people right across Scotland”

“It also introduces powers for local authorities to designate firework control zones, restrictions on the supply and use of fireworks, and a new offence to criminalise the supply of fireworks and pyrotechnics to under-18s. Being in possession of a firework or other pyrotechnic in a public place, or at certain places or events, without reasonable excuse also becomes an offence.”

Community Safety Minister Ash Regan said, “This ground-breaking new legislation will improve the lives of people right across Scotland. This is not a ban on fireworks. We still want people to enjoy them safely, for example attending organised displays.

“But this vitally important step will make firework use more predictable and safer. The Bill will ensure appropriate action can be taken over the dangerous or disruptive use of fireworks, as well as reducing the misuse of pyrotechnic devices such as flares.”

Regan added, “I am deeply grateful for the valued support and consideration this Bill received from NHS staff, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the Scottish SPCA and Police Scotland.”

Gilly Mendes Ferreira, head of innovation and strategic relations for the Scottish SPCA, said, “The passing of this Bill will help to tackle the impact that private use in particular can have and help to keep communities across Scotland safe. We always ask that the public enjoy fireworks responsibly and be mindful of the negative effect their misuse can have on people and animals.”

The British Veterinary Association (BVA), while welcoming the Bill, was more cautious – expressing concern that the measures do not go far enough.

“Loopholes have the potential to be exploited and may mean that these displays still have the potential to cause stress, harm and potential injury for animals nearby”

BVA President Malcolm Morley said, “Loud and high-pitched fireworks can cause extreme stress and upset for many species of animal as well as having the potential to cause pain and injury if an animal becomes panicked or a firework gets out of control.

“These measures are therefore a very welcome step in the right direction. It is vital that the Scottish Government now makes sure that there is adequate resource and guidance in place to ensure these new important rules can be properly enforced. We remain concerned about loopholes left by exemptions for public displays to continue to take place in designated Firework Control Zones and the lack of licensing requirements for public displays and organised events.

“These loopholes have the potential to be exploited and may mean that these displays still have the potential to cause stress, harm and potential injury for animals nearby.”

fireworks

Other critics of the new legislation have raised concerns, including the possibility that this may lead to a black market of fireworks, and that people may get around the regulation via online purchases or by simply crossing the border into England to buy fireworks freely (now, at least one of those options would be significantly harder if some legislation were to be introduced in England, too…)

With Firework Season about to start, we will soon find out whether this Bill will make a real difference, or if it will need some corrections in order to protect vulnerable animals and people as it is meant to do. No piece of legislation is perfect – but a flawed step forward is still a step forward. At the very least, it shows awareness of the problem as well as willingness to take action.

And that is worth more than a million anecdotes on how much our MPs love their dogs.

Click here for advice on how to help your dog through firework season.

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