The Fourth of July holiday was more like a Halloween fright night for Louie the golden retriever and his owner.
Like many dogs and cats, Louie was easily startled by the unfamiliar booms, bangs and pops of fireworks that go along with Independence Day. He ended up being one of more than 180 stray animals taken in by Riverside County Animal Services from Sunday through Tuesday. Those numbers, which include the city of Riverside and other communities in the agency's service area, are actually lower than past years, according to the shelter.
Fortunately, Louie was brought to the Jurupa Valley shelter and reunited the next day with his owner, who called Tuesday the worst night of his life. Louie likely broke through a gate after he was frightened by fireworks, setting off a desperate neighborhood search.
Louie stood on his hind legs and pawed at his kennel fence when he saw his owner.
"I haven't slept at all," said Erik Arteaga. "The Fourth of July is probably the scariest night of a dog's life. I'm definitely not going to leave him ever again."
Louie's Fourth of July story isn't unusual. As of Wednesday afternoon, the agency reunited more than 40 dogs with owners, but several cats were still waiting for their owners to show up.
Many of the animals were brought in by people who just happened to see them wandering around the community. In those cases, a microchip ID embedded under the animal's skin can help reunite a pet and owner.
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For example, a city utility worker brought a small dog named "Coco" to the shelter after he began following him around as he was reading electricity meters. Coco had an ID chip, which was scanned at the shelter, providing staff members with the information they need to notify the owner.
Click here to learn about the microchip ID system.
Department spokesman John Welsh told the Press-Enterprise that this year's lower number of strays suggests people are getting the message.
"The message has hit home with a lot of folks," Welsh said. "You can’t just go out of town and leave your dog in the backyard and expect it to be there when you return. The noises are just so frightening to some breeds."