WHILE the spectacular sight of the New Year's Eve fireworks captivated those watching them, the noise spooked thousands of dogs in the suburbs.
Sounds such as gunfire, thunder and fireworks can frighten dogs and be the trigger for them to run away from their homes. And the rise in the number of fireworks in suburban areas has coincided with a surge in dogs fleeing and ending up as strays.
"It has been horrific, compared to other years," the spokeswoman for Renbury Farm animal shelter, Marg Madden, said. "We're bracing for more lost dogs because there will soon be the Orthodox Christmas and Australia Day fireworks."
Some dogs are run over, others are impounded, such as the 30 that were brought in the day after New Year's Day to Renbury Farm. During the year, the shelter will have at least 40 dogs but during the festive season the number can increase to 90.
"We had up to 50 people calling us trying to find lost pets. It's heartbreaking," Ms Madden said.
Old identification data on microchips made it difficult for shelters to locate owners, she said . "We urge owners to keep their dogs indoors and update microchip data.''
Shelters and pounds are struggling to cope with the strays, with many already at capacity because of the pre-Christmas surrenders.
The RSPCA received 283 stray and surrendered dogs between Christmas and the second day of the new year, down from 393 over the previous Christmas-New Year. But its shelters are holding 13 per cent more animals compared with this time last year.
The manager of Rocky's K9 Rescue in Canley Vale, Merna Karam, said her sanctuary was "inundated" with surrendered dogs before Christmas.
"Owners give all sorts of reasons but it happens before Christmas, probably because they want to go on a holiday and can't afford a boarding kennel," she said. "Every day I get about 20 phone calls and about four surrendered dogs come in."
She was shocked that some dogs were long-term pets, most likely relinquished for convenience. "Some being dumped are 11- and 12-year-old dogs," she said.
Contrary to widespread belief that many puppies were abandoned after being given as gifts during Christmas, shelters said discarded and stray dogs were usually two to three years old.
The founder of Doggie Rescue, Monika Biernacki, said she was saddened by every call she received from owners.
"The increase in calls starts in November and peaks in December and January," she said. "It's important to be ready for commitment, don't rush it and never buy a dog as a surprise gift."
The Animal Welfare League NSW said unwanted "Christmas gift pets" were usually brought to its shelters in the middle of the year when a lack of proper training manifested in behavioural problems.
About 400,000 dogs and cats were abandoned in Australia each year and half were put down, the league's Carlene Albronda said.