Rural fireworks spook animals

“When I got out there, those goats weren’t even touching the ground. They were hitting the walls in their house. They were so frantic."

Fireworks are erupting in Sahtlam even after Halloween as livestock owners report that their animals suffered during recent celebrations.

Rose Rogan is angry that she had to comfort her four terrified goats after fireworks were set off near their enclosure, in contravention of both a Cowichan Valley Regional District bylaw and any consideration for her animals.

“I have a farm out here in Sahtlam,” she explained.

“My goat area is right next to a fence. People let off fireworks, somewhere after 9 p.m. so loud it was like they were almost in my property. I went out there to check. My goats have a wire compound attached to their house that I lock up at night because I get bear and cougar. I milk my goats; they’re part of my livelihood.

“When I got out there, those goats weren’t even touching the ground. They were hitting the walls in their house. They were so frantic. It was so sad to see them,” Rogan said.

She got them into a stall.

“They collapsed in a heap; they could barely breathe. So I sat out there in the dark with them.

I tried to calm them so their breathing got down to normal. I couldn’t go inside to get the phone to call 9-1-1.”

Rogan said she thought the fireworks were set off probably about two to three metres from her property line which is about 18 metres from the goats’ enclosure. That concerned her.

Anyone letting off fireworks is supposed to have a permit but this year regulations have been beefed up and Rogan said she felt particularly let down because, “it says right there on the permit: ‘I acknowledge that fireworks are not to be discharged within 500 metres of livestock.’ That’s half a kilometre.”

She said she has spoken to a CVRD bylaw officer and is hoping to see at least a warning handed out.

“This 500-metre thing has only been in for only two weeks. They can plead ignorance. But if this doesn’t go any further I am going to call the SPCA.”

Because she is also a Sahtlam firefighter, Rogan is usually not at home on Halloween because she helps out with celebrations at the hall.

“But this year I didn’t go because I was so worried about my dogs. It was the first time in probably 13-14 years I haven’t gone to the fire hall. I’m so glad I didn’t,” she said.

Rogan is also looking at taking affirmative action herself.

“I am planning to take the notice that was in the paper and plasticize it and put it on every mailbox here.”

Although her goats are now more relaxed, the shock has affected their milk, she said.

“I can’t believe how much the milk production has dropped after that day. That’s a sign of stress. Ask any vet or dairy farmer. Animals are resilient, but I could have lost them. Imagine someone lighting a firework under the window of a six-month-old baby: something like that.”

Rogan said she knows she’s not the only livestock owner with the problem. She has also talked to Alison Nicholson, CVRD area director for Cowichan Station/Sahtlam/Glenora — a heavily rural area.

Rogan’s friend, Kelly West, who also lives in the Sahtlam area, is also concerned about the need to rein in fireworks around livestock.

She and her husband, Dean, live on two acres and an issue arose during a neighbourhood New Year’s celebration. Advance notice had been given about the event but it still disturbed the animals.

“We have sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Our ducks were quite close to the property line. That night I was hunkered down beside them. I could hear them trampling on each other in their fright.”

The end result at New Year’s was that four ducks and a rooster had to be put down, she said.

She said that she and her husband had also spoken to the bylaw control officer and to Nicholson “to see if there was anything they could do.”

The recent change in the bylaw was welcome, but they also took proactive steps, so that at Halloween, when there were fireworks set off nearby again, there was less havoc among the animals.

“Because the ducks’ house is mobile, we were able to up and move them to the other side of the property,” West said. “We have sunk a lot of money into our farm and the animals. It’s our philosophy, too, that we try to give our animals the best life possible. When they have to go through this, it breaks my heart.”

She said her animals were “slightly desensitized” to noise already because the property is located near the gun club range, “but not to having little bombs going off.”

Nicholson said she has heard of the problem.

“That was unfortunate, this Halloween. It’s been a concern. Kelly and her husband, Dean, brought it to my attention last January. There was a gap in the bylaw; nothing was said about livestock.”

The CVRD acted on that by inserting the rule about 500 metres of separation.

“We had that put in, it was based on guidelines from, I think, the Horse Association of BC. It made sense. We got it in just before Halloween. I don’t think there was enough information out to the community about the change, though. But, that said, I think people were just ignoring the fact that they needed to have permits to let off fireworks. Period. It’s a real issue, and it’s particularly an issue out in an agriculture area because it is very frightening for animals.”

Nicholson’s Area E also covers Glenora, another agricultural district and people there were also pleased about the change, she said.

However, when she spoke to CVRD officials after Halloween she found there had been problems with fireworks.

“He said it was ‘just crazy’ Halloween night. Apparently there were fireworks going off all over the place where they shouldn’t have, without permits. So, I think the CVRD needs to do more work on community education and enforcement on this one because it’s not good,” she said.

One issue that also could be a factor is the current $100 fine.

“I know that tickets were handed out on Halloween but whether $100 is enough to deter people, I don’t know. I know that the City of Duncan is concerned about fireworks as well. It’s certainly something on my radar. We’ll see how New Year’s goes, but there aren’t usually as many fireworks then.”