During the past couple of weeks, Missoula Animal Control staff has been hustling to chase down dogs spooked by Fourth of July fireworks. "Because fireworks season goes on for so long, it just sends these dogs out of their minds," says shelter attendant Erin Horner. "They run in front of cars. They run into rivers. They run anywhere that they feel is safe."
Between June 24 and July 7, the county shelter took in 34 dogs. Horner says that's about twice as many as is customary during an average two-week span.
Setting off fireworks in Missoula is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. The Missoula Police Department had two cars and four city personnel devoted to policing fireworks within the city limits on July 3 and July 4. However, MPD spokesman Bob Bouchee says law enforcement "issued zero citations for any fireworks possession or shooting them off in city limits."
Some locals are now wondering why—despite the law, their potential fire threat and the impact they have on animals—it seems city dwellers have been given a green light to shoot off Independence Day explosives as they see fit.
"What we really have here is a message to all Missoulians that you can do fireworks whenever you want—because we're not going to enforce them," 4&20 Blackbirds blogger jhwygirl opined in a post last week.
After hearing from concerned constituents, many of them with pets, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier says that it "seems extraordinary" that no fireworks citations were issued. On July 8, he introduced a referral asking his council peers to help him probe how well, or not so well, fireworks complaints were handled this year.
"It's not an insignificant concern," Strohmaier says.
Bouchee says MPD fireworks policy hasn't shifted, but rather officers are asked to use their best judgment. "It's officer discretion on these types of calls," he says. "Its going to depend on the circumstances of the individual incidents. So, there's not a blanket reason for no citations."
Council will discuss the issue in the coming weeks.