SAN JOSE -- Pets startled by the thunderous boom of fireworks have long been known to scatter and even run away from home in the throes of their terror, a rare moment when their acute hearing exploits them.
The behavior is so prevalent that July 5 is usually the busiest day of the year at U.S. animal shelters as they fill up with wayward dogs and cats awaiting reunions with their owners.
That next-day ritual might not be necessary for much longer. As is increasingly the case with many of our personal needs, there's now an app for that.
Just in time for the Fourth of July, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has launched a smartphone app that walks people through preparing their pets for an anticipated disaster or otherwise traumatic incident -- like the explosive way Americans celebrate the country's independence -- and, if need be, help them search for lost animals.
"There are a number of folks who never thought their pet would be lost," said Emily Weiss, ASPCA vice president of shelter research and development. "One of the most powerful things we learned is that 64 percent (of respondents) did not anticipate their pet getting lost in the manner they got lost."
Jon Cicirelli, director of San Jose Animal Care and Services, said the app -- available for Apple and Android smartphones -- addresses a common need, saying that as recently as five years ago the shelter would receive more than 100 pets who were plucked from the streets after running away.
"It used to be so bad that in San Jose we'd set up a special shift," Cicirelli said. "It's gotten better over the years, but we still see a spike."
He noted that dogs make up the vast majority of the lost animals.
"Cats have different behaviors, they're probably within 1 or 2 yards of your own house," he said.
As soon as you fire up the ASPCA app, you're asked if you've lost your pet. If you tap "No," you're taken to a screen laden with proactive measures like ensuring your pet -- dogs and cats are the only applicable animals thus far -- has an identification tag or microchip, and securing the home perimeter or crating your pets during the anticipated stressful event.
But tapping on "Yes" takes the user through a choose-your-own-adventure series of prompts that gather information about your pet, including its behavioral tendencies and whether there are urban, suburban or rural surroundings.
Based on the answers, the app helps owners set up a tactical search plan. For instance, if you indicate that a dog is friendly, it will mention the likelihood that someone already picked it up and suggest you canvass your neighbors.
"We have years of data and research we've been doing around lost pets, and the ways in which pets get lost and the way people search for pets," Weiss said. "This takes that research and puts it into action."
The app also automates the process of creating fliers and spreading news of the search online, and serves as a clearinghouse for your pet's info for easy access.
And for literal giggles, the app throws in a link to its "Cute Animals" Instagram feed.
Even without the technology, Cicirelli says pet owners can adhere to basic protections to prevent their animals from escaping during the booming celebrations this weekend: Keeping windows closed -- as screens are easily penetrated by a leaping pooch -- and producing background or white noise in the hours leading up to fireworks so that the audible contrast isn't as great. But tags and microchips rise above all measures in the event a pet does get loose.
"It will make it a lot easier for us to find you," Cicirelli said. "We'll take them straight to your home. We'll get them back to you."
Contact Robert Salonga at 408-920-5002. Follow him at Twitter.com/robertsalonga.
The ASPCA smartphone app that helps owners find their lost pets and prepare them for disasters and other stressful events can be downloaded at the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android devices: Search for "ASPCA."