The dog days of summer, where temperatures climb and people head outdoors, have nearly arrived. It is especially important to keep animals in mind during this active season—not just the companions in our homes but also the wild animals we may encounter while hiking in a national park or visiting a kid-friendly attraction. With some planning, you can ensure that your pets are protected pets, your outdoor activities don’t have adverse effects on habitats and your vacation fund does not inadvertently support exploitative wildlife attractions.
Here are some tips to help you and our fellow creatures have a safe summer:
Help wild animals—by keeping your distance
The opportunity to see wildlife firsthand draws millions of people into nature each year. But breathtaking animal sightings can quickly turn dangerous when people get too close. Just last month, a woman was gored by a bison at Yellowstone National Park after approaching within 10 feet of the animal.
Human presence also harms wild animals; overcrowding stresses animals and inhibits their ability to perform natural behaviors such as foraging and nurturing their young. Continued exposure to humans, especially humans who are feeding them or leaving easily accessible garbage, can cause wild animals to become food conditioned and or habituated to us. These animals then learn to approach people, potentially resulting in human-wildlife conflicts. (Just recently, we told you about Chip, a horse who arrived at our Black Beauty Ranch animal sanctuary from Assateague Island who had been fed so often by tourists he associated humans with food and became aggressive.) When park managers are unable to deter animals who have become a threat to public safety as a result of people feeding them, they may end up being forced to kill the animals.
When visiting animals in nature, remember to stay at least 75 feet (about the length of two school buses) from most wild animals, such as moose, bighorn sheep and mule deer, and at least 300 feet (about the length of a football field) from bears and wolves.
You can still do good for wild animals while keeping your distance. If you put water out for wildlife, or if you have a pool in your yard (even one as small as a kiddie pool) make sure to have a ramp so that small animals and birds who may wade too deeply have a way to climb out. Otherwise, our wild neighbors, from field mice to songbirds, are at risk of drowning, even if the water was put out to help them by giving them something to drink or a way to cool down.
Avoid exploitative attractions
When traveling or looking for fun things to do in your local area, you may find wildlife attractions such as roadside zoos, elephant rides and swim-with-dolphin excursions. At first glance, these attractions can seem like a great opportunity to connect with wild animals and help conservation efforts. But behind the façade, these attractions exploit wild animals for profit, often keeping them in cruel conditions and forcing them to interact with person after person for photo ops.
When trying to differentiate a humane attraction from a cruel one, a simple rule is to avoid any place that allows visitors to directly interact with wild animals. For a guilt-free excursion, visit wildlife sanctuaries, rescue centers and rehabilitation centers accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. Accredited facilities do not commercially trade animals or breed animals for profit and largely do not allow visitors to directly interact with wild animals.
Keep pets safe from the heat
Be mindful of the summer heat. Not only can it have serious health effects on humans, but the sun can also hurt pets. Know the signs of heat stroke in your pet: Cats and dogs may be panting heavily and drooling excessively, lethargic and have abnormally colored gums. Pet owners should also watch out for sunburn and skin cancer. White-furred and thin-coated pets are particularly vulnerable. And if you want to let your dog cool off with a dip in a pond, make sure to avoid water that appears to have slime, foam or scum on the surface, as this may be a sign of a toxic algae bloom, which can be poisonous for dogs.
Even on cooler days, pets can still be impacted. On an 85°F day, the temperature can rise to 102°F inside a car with the windows opened slightly within 10 minutes. Do not leave your pets alone in a car, even for a short amount of time, and learn the steps to take if you encounter a pet left in a hot car.
Pavement can also become hotter than the air temperature and injure your pet’s paw pads. Before walking your dog on the road or sidewalk, put your hand on the ground for five seconds. If your hand hurts within that time, then it is unsafe for your pet.
Help animals frightened by fireworks
Summer celebrations are often synonymous with fireworks. While these displays may be fun for spectators, they are frightening for both pets and wild animals. Preparation is key to minimizing distress for your companion. If you know your pet is sensitive to fireworks, leave them indoors with a radio or TV on to soften the booming sounds. You can also talk to your veterinarian about medications that can help alleviate your pet’s anxiety.
Keep an eye out for disoriented wildlife, too, during or shortly after a firework show. The loud noises and flashing colors can cause animals to flee their environment, where they may end up in dangerous places like on the road. Not all fireworks come with a loud bang. Some traditional fireworks make a quieter swishing noise that is less likely to send animals into a panic. You can ask organizers of firework events in your town to select the quieter types of fireworks.
You can further protect wild animals by forgoing the fireworks during a backyard celebration; laser shows can evoke a similar sense of awe as fireworks—without harming our wild neighbors.
It’s so rewarding to share a reverence for animals and the natural world with our children, extended family and friends, furry or human. From birdwatching to hiking and camping to enjoying a picnic outside, there are so many ways to celebrate the summer. (I personally delight in my warm weather walks with my dog Lilly, who gets immense delight from watching local squirrels).
It's empowering to know that even small actions can help make the world we share with animals safer. As wild habitats decrease, keeping animals in mind during every season becomes an even more important part of being a compassionate and humane citizen. I’m thankful to everyone who is doing their part and raising awareness for animals among their friends and families.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.