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Runaway pets spooked by 4th of July fireworks, festivities waiting to be reclaimed

The San Diego Humane Society is trying to reunite owners with pets lost over the Fourth of July.
The San Diego Humane Society is trying to reunite owners with pets lost over the Fourth of July holiday that are in its shelters.
(San Diego Humane Society)

Since July 4, 255 pets have been taken in at the San Diego Humane Society’s shelters

More than 200 pets in San Diego County became separated from their owners over the Fourth of July holiday as gates were left unlatched during holiday parties and noisy fireworks sent spooked dogs and cats running, officials say.

Now, the San Diego Humane Society is hoping to host some happy reunions.

As of Thursday afternoon, the society’s shelters had taken in 255 pets — with only 43 reclaimed so far.

The pets were either picked up by humane officers or found by Good Samaritans and brought to the shelters. Animals found wandering alone included 112 dogs, six puppies, eight cats, 93 kittens, four rabbits and one bird, as well as a couple of guinea pigs, mice and rats, said spokesperson Nina Thompson.

Many of the pets probably ran away because of noisy fireworks, she said. Officials have long warned how terrifying the Fourth of July can be for pets because of loud noises, with some dogs jumping fences out of fear and confusion.

Last year, the organization took in 270 pets between July 4 and July 7. Only 28 percent of those strays ended up being reunited with their owners.

The Humane Society posts information about found dogs, cats and other critters on its found pets website which is at sdhumane.org/lost.

Stray dogs are placed on hold for at least four days to give their owners time to come in and claim them. They then are checked medically and for behavior issues before the society considers placing them up for adoption.

The holiday surge in strays is coming at a tough time. The Humane Society is “quite stressed with capacity” right now because of an outbreak of a canine respiratory virus at its shelters known as canine pneumovirus, Thompson said. In late June, the organization temporarily suspended owner relinquishments of dogs at its shelters, although it remains open to strays.

The shelters are quarantining sick dogs and trying to keep healthy dogs from getting exposed, Thompson said. The virus causes symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and nasal discharge and can develop into pneumonia in severe cases, veterinary officials say.

“This virus often spreads through kennels because of the high number of dogs in one location. In a shelter setting, it’s critical that we quarantine sick dogs for 14 days so they can rest, recover and we can prevent spread of the virus to the rest of the shelter population or the community,” Dr. Zarah Hedge, the humane society’s chief medical officer and vice president of shelter medicine, said in a June statement about the virus.

For now, there’s no estimate on when the Humane Society will again accept dogs surrendered by owners.

As of Tuesday, the society’s shelters were caring for 1,678 pets, including 486 dogs.

While the shelters still accept strays, Thompson said people who find a lost pet should consider trying to find the owner themselves first. She suggests posting a photo of the animal on social media sites dedicated to specific neighborhoods or lost pets. If the pet isn’t wearing a collar or ID tag, veterinarians or shelters also can check if the animal is microchipped.

“If you can hold onto the pet and at least try to reunify with his or her owner, that would be wonderful,” she said. “If not, we are here as a resource.”

The Humane Society operates shelters for companion animals in San Diego, Escondido, Oceanside and El Cajon and provides animal services to 14 cities in the county.


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