Massena man says fireworks led to loss of his service dog

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MASSENA — Robert Gesualdi is mourning the loss of his canine companion this week, and he says fireworks are to blame.

The military veteran, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress syndrome, relied on Chase, who served as his emotional support dog. But Chase had to be euthanized this week after suffering through nights of fireworks.

Service dogs like Chase have been individually trained to perform a specific task for individuals who have disabilities. They can aid in navigation for people who are hearing- and visually impaired, assist an individual who is having a seizure and, in a case like Mr. Gesualdi’s, calm an individual who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many disabled individuals depend on them every day to help them live their everyday lives.

That was the case with Chase, according to Mr. Gesualdi, who had his American Staffordshire Terrier euthanized on Monday at the suggestion of a veterinarian after it became clear that the fireworks had done too much damage to the dog. A 2013 study by the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Services found that a dog’s responses to fireworks include trembling, shaking, hiding, seeking comfort, destruction, urination and salivation, some symptoms exhibited by Chase.

Chase had been Mr. Gesualdi’s partner since June 2016, traveling everywhere with the Massena man.

“That dog was my lifeline. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight,” he said.

Everybody knew him, he said, whether it was at one of the local banks, stores or the mall.

Mr. Gesualdi said he carried treats in his pockets, and the employees would give them to Chase.

“He used to go in all the stores (at the mall). Everybody knew him,” Mr. Gesualdi said.

But this month, with the sounds of fireworks piercing the air, he said Chase became so scared that he was constantly shaking and would barely go outside to use the bathroom once a day. And that’s when, at the suggestion of the veterinarian, he made the very difficult decision to have his companion euthanized.

“This dog was so important. He was here 24/7,” he said.

Mr. Gesualdi said he found Chase at the animal shelter when he was looking for a dog. He was in a cage, sitting in a corner, just waiting for someone to give him a home. He had previously served as a service dog, he said.

Chase’s home is now behind a house that Mr. Gesualdi owns on Howard Street.

“I made him a coffin and wrapped him up,” he said.

A chair is also near the dog’s grave site. Mr. Gesualdi said he sits there in the morning and evening and remembers the good times he shared with Chase.

“I’ve been bawling my eyes out ever since the 10th,” he said.

He said he’s not looking for sympathy. He just wants people to realize the harmful impact fireworks have on animals like Chase.

“I want to have them realize this is devastating,” he said.

He said Chase endured fireworks in July 2016, but they weren’t as bad as what he experienced this year. This time around, Chase would go downstairs, trying to get away from the noise, and Mr. Gesualdi would follow him, both of them wrapping up together in a blanket.

“It got worse and worse and worse. He couldn’t go to the bathroom. He wouldn’t eat,” he said.

Mr. Gesualdi said, when the fireworks began going off, he contacted the Massena Police Department. He said police were very responsive, sending out a patrol that located the individual who was shooting off fireworks.

“I really appreciate all they did,” he said.

Although New York State penal law now allows for the sale of sparkling devices, as does St. Lawrence County, fireworks are illegal.

Anyone who violates the code could be fined not less than $100 or more than $250 or imprisoned for not more than 15 days for each violation.

“The St. Lawrence County legislators authorized sparklers. If they’re regular fireworks and we locate the people, we can arrest them under the penal law,” Massena Police Chief Adam Love said.

Sparkling devices, either ground-based or hand-held, are a different story, though.

“If it is a sparkler that’s been authorized by St. Lawrence County, unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do,” he said.

If it occurs after 10 p.m., creating a nuisance in the village, Chief Love said the individual can be cited.

Dr. Mike Smith from the Trout Brook Veterinary Clinic in Potsdam said there are ways to keep dogs from being disturbed by fireworks, and they mainly involve keeping the dog away from their sights and sounds.

Among his suggestions is to move the dog to a darkened and quiet room in the home. Another option is to take the animal for a ride to get away from the noise, he said.

That advice is also posted on the Purina website — create a special area in your home where your dog can feel safe and secure during the noise. Providing a special treat or favorite toy might also create positive associations with fireworks. Another option is to try closing the windows and playing some music, according to the Humane Society.

Medications like pheromones, melatonin or prescription drugs might help, some experts say, while others argue that the medications aren’t a viable solution because some take several weeks to build up.

Dr. Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and author, suggested in one of his books that owners act like they don’t recognize the behavior — walk the dog and talk to him as if the dog was in puppy training, providing treats for sitting and staying. He also suggests getting dogs involved with another activity to take their mind off the fireworks.

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