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Firework terror for guide dogs

Bang! The loud thunderous noise from fireworks may create a pretty spectacle, but for others it can have devastating consequences.

For the deafening noise of Catherine wheels, Roman candles, rockets and squibs frightens the life out of many animals, causing some to be maimed or killed while fleeing the awful sounds.

This is equally true for assistance dogs who help people with visual and hearing impairments, as well as others with general disabilities.

Each of these loyal animals has been trained at great expense and has become an invaluable companion for someone with a disability.

Take Woody, a golden Labrador retriever who is Audrey Tormey's much-loved companion. Audrey became blind when both eyes had to be removed because of a tumour.

So now Woody guides her to her job at the Dublin office of the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI). The pair take two buses and Audrey is perfectly confident Woody will steer a safe passage for her across the busy streets and along the pavements.

But for the past week or so, Audrey has had to manage with nothing but a white stick.

"Woody is quite a sensitive soul so during fireworks season I can't work him. I can't risk him being traumatized so I send him to the kennels in Newtownmountkennedy where I know he will be safe," she explained.

Audrey said it was not unusual for dogs to bolt because of the din of fireworks; she had even heard of people letting off fireworks with their own pets nearby. "That really, really worries me. It is so traumatic for the animals."

She called on the public to consider the trauma caused to animals by fireworks.

Ken Brydon operations manager for Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, said canines had acute hearing.

"Considering that a dog's hearing frequency range is double that of a human, it's no wonder that dogs find Halloween harrowing."

He said once a service dog became frightened of noises they might have to be retired and this would seriously impact on their owner. "Not only because the two have developed a bond, but also because they have come to depend on their dog for mobility and independence."

Furthermore, it could take months to find a dog to match the owner and months for them to form a proper working relationship.

Add to that the costs involved -- a staggering €38,000 in each case.

Sunday Independent