Fireworks on Canada Day, Halloween, and New Year’s cause problems for some people, including veterans and dog owners, in Greater Victoria. (Contributed/ Lindsey Blane)

Sound, light, smell of fireworks trigger veteran’s PTSD

Veteran and pet owner both ‘not too keen’ fireworks

Fireworks are a staple of New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world, but not everyone is a fan. A local veteran with PTSD and a dog-owner advocate both said banning the discharge of fireworks in Greater Victoria is virtually impossible and not necessarily desirable, but urge people not to set them off in their neighborhood.

READ ALSO: Midnight fireworks on New Year’s Eve called ‘selfish, incredibly intrusive’

Victoria, Esquimalt and Oak Bay have banned fireworks unless they are for large cultural celebrations, but Saanich and Langford approve permits for residents if they apply and have completed a fireworks-related safety course. Municipalities also regulate when, where, and why fireworks are permitted to be discharged.

Stephane Marcotte, a navy veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), said he’s “not too keen” on fireworks because it affects him and his service dog. Marcotte served 28 years in the navy as a marine engineer, and 18 of those years on a submarine. During that time he said he experienced fires, floods, being shot at for training exercises, and was once trapped in a fire.

“Even just talking about it, I’m shaking,” Marcotte said. He said the noise, light, and smell from fireworks take him right back to the head space he was in when he experienced the traumatic events that contributed to his PTSD. He said when there are fireworks he gets in bed and stays there or goes down to the basement and puts on some music.

“If they do fireworks, do it in a specific place where we know it’s happening,” suggests Marcotte. He said impromptu fireworks are not helpful for the many veterans who live in Greater Victoria and don’t expect to hear what might sound like gunfire to them from the comfort of their home.

READ MORE: In the news: LifeLabs lawsuit and no fireworks as fires rage in Australia

Mark Hawkes, president of dog-owner advocacy group Citizen Canine, said pet owners benefit when they know the fireworks are coming so they can take steps to protect their animals. He suggests trying to drown out the sound with music or trying to desensitize pets by quietly playing firework or gunshot sounds while giving them treats to reinforce the desirable behavior, and increasing the sound gradually.

“It’s clearly a huge problem for dog owners,” Hawkes said. “You hear horror stories of pets that have hurt or even killed themselves because they’re so scared and they just want to get away.”

Hawkes lives near Butchart Gardens, which he said means he’s forced to stay home every Saturday during the summer when the fireworks are on to make sure one of his two border collies is OK.

“It’s tough, we don’t really need fireworks, but I love fireworks. I have since I was young. I do sympathize with people who like fireworks,” Hawkes said. “The biggest concern is when people are using them indiscriminately in the neighborhood when you’re not home.”

Hawkes also said he is concerned about the welfare of local wildlife when fireworks are discharged, a concern shared on Twitter by local Donna.


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