Santa Barbara County Animal Services has seen a spike in the number of lost dogs brought to its shelters since the Fourth of July holiday weekend, like these canines waiting for their owners to show up at the Santa Maria facility. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Pet owners pleaded Tuesday with the Santa Maria City Council to enforce zero-tolerance laws for illegal fireworks, saying the unauthorized displays traumatized dogs.

For several days leading up to and following the Fourth of July, loud booms were commonplace above the Santa Maria Valley as residents ignited illegal fireworks — those that explode or propel themselves into the air.

So-called safe and sane fireworks were legal to purchase and use in the city of Santa Maria in the week before the Fourth of July. All types of fireworks are illegal in Orcutt.

Speakers, like Wanda McDonald, told the City Council on Tuesday night that the illegal fireworks are not “animal friendly.”

“What took place was both cruel and inhumane,” McDonald said, “and I feel the fallout from not enforcing the zero-tolerance policy is responsible for the increased number of stray animals, reports of injuries to animals and trauma to animals, not to mention the terror and suffering that many of our war veterans, community members with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and autistic children and others felt. 

“I haven’t been to war, but it’s being described by many as Santa Maria was a war zone.”

Animals have acute hearing so loud bangs and whistles can cause pain.

“It is no celebration for them or the people who love them,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”

The problem of illegal fireworks isn’t restricted to Independence Day celebrations and has become a year-round concern, resident Diane Miller said. 

Unable to bear the suffering, Miller relocated one of her dogs to Paso Robles after the black Lab still cowered in fear despite doses of Xanax and Prozac and being outfitted with a ThunderShirt dog calming gear. 

When reporting use of illegal fireworks, she said she is asked the address of the offenders. 

“I have no idea where the address is. It’s off to the east, it’s off the west, I don’t know, maybe a six-block radius of where I live,” she said. “Something has to be done. These people cannot be allowed to destroy the peace and quiet in our neighborhoods.”

A Santa Maria Valley resident since 1988, Debbie Warren said she and a friend started a Facebook group, “Orcutt/Santa Maria Lost and Found Pets,” and watched the membership swell.

“This group has accelerated like you can’t believe,” she said, adding that membership grew from 87 in January to more than 700 this week. 

In recent weeks, administrators have been busy working to match lost and found dogs with their humans.

“People are joining this group trying to get some help getting their animals back, mainly due to the fireworks,” she said, adding the problems are with illegal fireworks. 

From July 4-6, county animal shelters in Santa Maria, Santa Barbara and Lompoc had 31 stray dogs turned in, officials said.

All five in Santa Barbara were returned to owners, six of 10 in Lompoc were returned to owners and 11 of 16 at the Santa Maria site were returned to owners as of Wednesday.

The numbers are more than double what the shelters see on a normal weekend, according to Animal Services Director Jan Glick.

“We always see a spike on the 5th and 6th (of July),” Glick said, adding the shelters opened Sunday to help reunite animals scared off by fireworks.

In addition to the strays, Glick said she heard from owners about at least two killed by vehicles and a few others injured.

“It has a big impact,” she said.

For the five-day period starting June 30, the shelters took in 95 dogs and cats.

In response to the complaints, City Manager Rick Haydon said he will work with the fire and police departments and City Attorney’s Office in addition to reaching out to other cities to see how they handle enforcement of the illegal fireworks. 

Acting Battalion Chief Leonard Champion said the Fire Department was very busy with Fourth of July activities. In addition to monitoring the 25 booths permitted to sell safe and sane fireworks, the department representatives checked out block parties for safety aspects and inspected the community fireworks show. 

Firefighters also battled four fires in trash bins, all of which were blazes started by illegally discarded fireworks. 

A residential roof fire caused no damage but likely started due to fireworks, Champion said.

The fireworks hotline received 74 calls reporting illegal activity, he added

One person suffered a minor injury due to fireworks and went to Marian Regional Medical Center for treatment, Champion said. 

The Police Department also kept busy on the holiday. Police Chief Ralph Martin said that during the 24 hours of July 4 the agency received 460 calls for service. 

For a seven-hour period from 6 p.m. July 4 to 1 a.m. July 5, the agency logged 271 calls for service, or 39 calls an hour. Of that 271 calls, 128 were related to fireworks, adding up to 46 percent. 

The Police Department had 18 patrol cars throughout the city during that seven-hour period and the Fire Department also beefed up staffing for the day.

Santa Maria City Hall is the just the first stop for the pet owners’ group to air their concerns. They also plan to contact Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors regarding the rampant use of illegal fireworks in Orcutt.

“We’re going to fight fire with fire on this,” Warren said.

She added they recognize the challenge of cracking down on illegal fireworks amid reports some people drive to different neighborhoods to set them off to avoid detection.

“We are really hoping that zero tolerance will be put in place and something will be done to protect everyone in this community,” Warren told the council. “We live in a beautiful area and no one wants to have to put up with this.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at