A fireworks display in Bellows Falls in July 2021.

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When I was a kid, I enjoyed fireworks as much as anyone. I liked the colors, the sounds, the feeling of gathering together with others to mark special occasions.

However, I started to rethink using fireworks to mark special occasions in the mid-2000s when I spent a lot of time with people — soldiers, veterans, and civilians — who were returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Watching the impact of seemingly innocuous celebrations was horrific: my friends were drugging themselves to get through the weekend of July 4th and hiding behind cars when a neighbor set fireworks off unexpectedly. The majority of Americans (including me) have never lived through war and seemed oblivious to the needs of those who had, and I questioned why we were imitating war as a way to celebrate together.

Now I live in Brattleboro with a very sweet, bold, energetic dog named Piper, and I see close-up the impacts of fireworks on another species. Already this summer she’s been terrified on Saturday nights when someone nearby starts setting off fireworks. She runs from room to room, hides under our bed, and if it starts when we’re outdoors we hustle inside because of the fear that she’ll run away into the night in terror, the way she did her first July 4th when we didn’t know what to expect.

I’ve since learned more about the impacts of fireworks on the wildlife we are lucky to live among in Southern Vermont. Fireworks create stress, disorientation, and flight responses in birds and other animals, causing them to leave their homes and nests in terror, running into roadways, flying into buildings, and abandoning vulnerable young. Our community prioritizes the health and wellbeing of wildlife in so many ways — planting pollinator gardens, hanging birdfeeders in the winter, watching in respect as bears and moose(!) sometimes walk through our yards — that I wonder why we also support big firework displays that harm them.

This fireworks season, I’m particularly worried about how it will impact a new portion of our population. Our community has been rightly proud of how welcoming we’ve been to Afghan refugees and it’s wonderful to have them here. However, for people who lived through 20 years of U.S. bombing in a war-torn region, it feels incredibly insensitive — I would even say offensive and alienating — to explain that we like to celebrate occasions by imitating the war that our tax dollars funded but that most of us didn’t have to live through.

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If fireworks only happened at the town-sanctioned display one weekend, it would be relatively easy for those of us with pets or those with PTSD from war to avoid. Our family always makes plans to go away July 4th weekend to prevent further traumatizing our dog, even though it is sad to miss a community celebration. This year, the fireworks are planned for a Monday, when my partner has to work so we can’t leave town. We’re thinking of literally just driving around for hours with her in the car as far away from town as we can get, which just feels like absurdity (especially with these gas prices), but the alternative is worse!

While the town-sanctioned show has the most impact on wildlife, worse for our family are the unexpected fireworks from neighbors that happen all summer long. We never know when it will happen and those with pets and PTSD can’t prepare or protect those who are sensitive to it.

There are alternatives. Some communities have outlawed fireworks for the above reasons (plus the fire risk in drought-stricken regions) and are doing laser-light shows or other options instead. When I was younger it was common to release tons of balloons to mark special occasions, but after learning about the negative impacts on birds and marine life in particular, that is relatively rare. We can change our traditions.

We can do the same thing about fireworks. It is unnecessary to mark special occasions or host community gatherings in a way that traumatizes people who have lived through war and harms domestic pets or wildlife. I would love if our town chose to sponsor a laser-light show or something else for July 4th to make our community safer and more welcoming. I would love if our community members chose not to buy fireworks to shoot off in their yards all summer as a way to show care and respect for those they live near. I invite you to join me in rethinking fireworks. Let’s figure out ways to celebrate in ways that include and support all members of our community, including non-humans.

Sonia Silbert writes from Brattleboro. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.