Some local pet lovers are concerned that the city’s upcoming fireworks display will be popping, fizzing and ka-booming too close to the Lawrence Humane Society.
The fireworks are scheduled to be set off Monday night (July 3) at Venture Park for viewing from an event at the nearby Douglas County Fairgrounds. The site where fireworks will be shot off from Venture Park is about one-third of a mile from the animal shelter, which is just north of the fairgrounds.
Residents have raised concerns about the plan on social media. And worried the fireworks will scare the animals staying at the shelter, Julie Lowrance said she has sent emails to city commissioners, asking for an explanation or a change of venue.
“Being a pet owner and a former owner of a pet sitting service, the decision to hold the fireworks show at the Douglas County Fairgrounds is very concerning to me,” Lowrance said. “The animals there are already dealing with stress and anxiety as it is. Hearing the very loud booms … will only intensify the stress they are under.”
Not all animals have a stress response to fireworks, said Elina Alterman, director of development and communications at the humane society, but staff members will be present to help the ones who do.
Staff members will observe, soothe, engage with toys and medicate the animals if needed, Alterman said. Calming music will be piped throughout the building, masking some of the noise.
“If we notice that any animal, you know, is really not responding to all of the other safeguards, we are able to (medicate),” Alterman said. “We have access to more resources than the average pet owner in the home.”
This is the first time in memory that the city has held the fireworks display at the fairgrounds. The display was previously at Burcham Park by the river north of downtown for several years, and it was held at KU’s Shenk Sports Complex, located at 23rd and Iowa streets, in 2021 and 2022. Because of the ongoing West Campus construction project, that location is unavailable this year.
The fireworks are part of a longer free event at the fairgrounds that the city is calling Summerfest. It includes food trucks and live music, and kicks off at 4 p.m. Monday. The event will culminate with the fireworks display by the Lawrence Jaycees at 9:45 p.m.
The fireworks will last approximately 30 minutes, according to Porter Arneill, assistant director for arts and culture for the city.
“We’ve been in communication with the Humane Society and we are working together to minimize the possible effects of the fireworks display on the animals at the shelter,” he said. “In addition to their new building being well insulated, the Humane Society appreciates that, unlike thunderstorms and the random neighborhood fireworks that are common this time of year, they know the timing of this 30-minute fireworks display, which allows them to prepare and work with their animals to help mitigate as necessary.”
The city sent a letter to nearby residents, dated June 5, notifying them of the event: “We apologize in advance for the noise, but hope you, too, will be able to enjoy the beautiful fireworks.”Summerfest-2023-Map2
Alterman said she and the rest of the staff at the humane society take the animals’ safety seriously. She said they understand that city staff considered other venues before deciding on the fairgrounds as the best option.
Despite the measures the shelter is taking to protect the animals, Lowrance believes the city misstepped in selecting the fairgrounds for the fireworks.
So far, Lowrance said only one commissioner has responded to her email. Brad Finkeldei wrote back saying the county was the one that approved the permit for the event, which is being sponsored and organized by the City of Lawrence.
“Since we did not approve it, I am not sure what power we have to stop it,” he replied.
Douglas County commissioners do not approve individual events at the fairgrounds — county staff members do, county spokesperson Karrey Britt said via email.
Julia Ireland, a volunteer for the humane society who has five rescue pets in her home, is worried the city’s decision to host the fireworks so close to the animal shelter will hinder the shelter staff’s ability to handle incoming lost pets.
“All across the country, the July fourth holiday is the number one time of the year where most animals get lost. Knowing this is going to happen, it should be the focus of the Humane Society to prepare for that and not (have) to deal with the city fireworks right out their doors,” Ireland said in an email. “I think the decision to have the fireworks at the fairgrounds is callous and wrong.”
Ireland believes the city overlooked other viable spots, such as Burcham Park.
“Areas near the Sports Pavilion on the westside of town that would work as well,” she said.
As a former pet sitter, Lowrance has memories of dogs whining and trembling in fear and cats scampering under furniture to hide from the noise on the Fourth of July.
“My heart always went out to them and I did the best I could to comfort them,” she said. “I know the LHS staff will do their very best to comfort the animals in their care that night, but they shouldn’t have been put in that position to begin with. I sincerely hope the city realizes what this will do to the animals and will find another location more suitable for the show.”
The best way for people to help the humane society is to be kind in their advocacy, according to a post on its Facebook page.
The shelter is accepting donations of hot dogs, soft dog treats, cheddar blocks, spray cheese, tuna and catnip, which staff will keep at the ready to help animals in distress.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.