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Boom in fireworks triggering veterans, terrorizing pets

While Americans wade into socially distant Fourth of July weekend celebrations, one local veteran said that for he and other veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, the holiday is "hell."

"We've been hearing some fireworks already, but I'm not looking forward to Saturday," said Doug Capazzi, a U.S. Army veteran who lives in Groton.

Every year, Capazzi said, veterans with PTSD have to mentally prepare for the holiday — making plans to leave town if there's a large display planned, or ensuring their noise cancelling headphones are on tight. But this year, the traumatic sound of explosions has been echoing through southeastern Connecticut for weeks.

Cities and towns have received record numbers of complaints from residents who say they can't sleep and their pets are being terrorized, with complaints in New London up at least 594% compared to this time last year.

When Capazzi, who served as a medical unit mechanic and combat lifesaver from 1998 to 2007, hears fireworks in his neighborhood, the percussion thumping in his chest brings him back to the battlefields in Iraq and Kuwait. Panic sets in and sleep is next to impossible as the sound and vibration stir up memories of bandaging the wounds of fallen comrades. He already has trouble sleeping due to nightmares from his trauma.

"Having that trigger can be really devastating," Dr. Peter Morgan, chair of psychiatry at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, said of fireworks. "When you're not expecting it, it makes it that much worse."

Morgan spoke with one veteran recently who commented on the frequency of fireworks, "The Fourth of July is the Fourth of July, but let's not make it July 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 11, 15."

Capazzi said there needs to be a compromise where veterans know the timeframe and can take preventative measures. When he sees social media posts about fireworks in nearby towns, he reaches out to area veterans he knows to make sure they're okay.

Even for people without PTSD, Morgan said it can be detrimental to one's mood and mental state if explosions interrupt their sleep cycle. He said it may take a few minutes to figure out it is not somebody getting shot, and so adrenaline increases.

Local residents have complained to city and town officials that they're hearing fireworks as late as 2 a.m.

Dogs are shaking, hyperventilating and sometimes running away

For Norwich resident Marie Friess, constant fireworks from a neighboring house have terrorized her Yorkie and Chihuahua.

"My dogs are literally shaking so badly that I pick them up and hold them and try to comfort them," she said. Sometimes she even puts them in the car and drives them out of town.

Friess said she would be devastated if one of her dogs had a heart attack because of this and is constantly worried one will die.

"I'm all for having fireworks on the Fourth of July; it's not a big deal. But this goes on every single night, and it's been going on for probably a month," said Friess, who has called police repeatedly.

Amanda Melton, who lives in the Greeneville section of Norwich, said she's called police at least five times in the past two weeks. And that's just for fireworks she believes are illegal, whereas she won't waste their time for ones she thinks are legal.

Melton said between fireworks and recent thunderstorms, her puggle has "been a mess." He shakes and hyperventilates.

On Facebook, the lost pet finding group CT Dog Gone Recovery Volunteer Network encouraged people to call their local police department if they see illegal fireworks, saying we "need to speak up to protect our pets & families."

In June, the group posted about a dog in New Haven and another dog in East Hartford that each went missing because they were frightened of fireworks, but both were since found.

Goodfriends Veterinary Clinic in East Lyme shared a graphic Friday noting that more pets go missing on the Fourth of July than any other day. It gave some tips for pet owners: close the windows and turn on music, make sure your dog is wearing an ID collar with contact info, and consult with your vet about giving your dog a mild sedative.

Pam Konakowitz, manager of Companion Animal Hospital in Groton, said the hospital has had "quite a few" calls about fireworks, and they've been spread out over the past few weeks. She said veterinarians can give pets a few things to take the edge off.

Day Staff Writers Julia Bergman and Erica Moser contributed to this report.

t.hartz@theday.com

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