Jeff Jardine

An explosion of emotions when illegal fireworks drive dog to her death

If they don’t give a rat’s backside about shooting off M-80s and other illegal fireworks, they probably won’t care about the sadness they wrought upon a north Modesto family over the weekend.

Such, it seems, is the mindset among people who propel their unsafe and insane contraband into the skies for not-so-cheap thrills that most law-abiding citizens would love to see made more costly through big, fat fines and seizures of the verboten projectiles.

Count the Baxter family – dad Vernie, mom Liz and 13-year-old daughter Brisaeda – among those who are angry and upset with the people who launch the illegal fireworks. Chiquita, the family’s 9-year-old miniature pinscher, died Sunday night. What killed her? A vehicle on Claus Road. And why did Chiquita venture out on to Claus Road?

Because some miscreants in the Village I area began shooting off the skyrockets and M-80s over the past week, Liz Baxter said. The specific M-80 explosions that bothered the dog emanated most from the north side of Floyd Avenue but certainly weren’t limited to that specific part of the neighborhood, the city or Stanislaus County.

Nor was it the first time the animal had endured the explosions. They happen every year, on and around Independence Day and then again to blast in the New Year. Chiquita certainly wasn’t alone. Scores of dogs ran away and ended up at the county’s pound to be reclaimed by their owners. Those dogs were fortunate. They lived to return to their owners. Chiquita simply hit her breaking point and bolted, Baxter said.

“As she was getting older,” Baxter said, “she became more sensitive to noise. Before, she would just get cuddly because she was scared. But those M-80s are big and powerful and they scared her pretty bad. They were coming from across the street (Floyd Avenue).”

At one point, Baxter drove around the neighborhood looking for the launching pad and came across a couple of Modesto police officers who were doing the same. MPD, though, could dedicate only three pairs of officers and a sergeant to try to locate and stop the illegal firings, police spokeswoman Heather Graves said. They wrote 30 $1,000 citations and seized “several hundred pounds” of illegal fireworks from July 2 through the Fourth, she said. But they didn’t make a dent in the bigger picture, with so few to cover the entire city.

Around 10 p.m. Sunday the noise drove the little dog over the edge and under a wooden gate next to the home. Frightened to a new level, Chiquita summoned the strength to push aside a heavy piece of wood that previously kept her in the yard, and she escaped.

“My daughter had been going out to check on her every few minutes,” Liz Baxter said. “After the last big one, Brisaeda went out to check on her and she was gone.”

They went out to look for Chiquita. Liz posted on Village I’s Facebook page, and neighbors joined in the search. Then a motorist saw Vernie and Liz driving slowly through the area and knew what they where looking for. They got the news they didn’t want to hear: that an animal lay dead on Claus Road in front of The Well church, about a half-mile from their home. It was, indeed, Chiquita.

“It seems all the while we were looking for her she had gone in the opposite direction,” Liz Baxter posted on Facebook. “I felt deep down that I didn't want to go look toward Claus and sure enough I found out why. That was the last place we drove by and there she was in the middle of the road. It seems she was trying to go as far away from the noise as possible and her fear lead her to her death. We are completely heartbroken, especially Brisaeda.”

The Baxters made certain their daughter didn’t see Chiquita on the road.

“We didn’t want that to be her lasting memory of her,” Liz Baxter said.

Even so, the loss changed Brisaeda.

“I always enjoyed the fireworks, the loud noises,” Brisaeda said. “But after what they caused my dog to do and what happened, it’s ruined it for me.”

Even before Chiquita died, Liz Baxter couldn’t understand how parents could allow their kids to shoot off illegal fireworks and especially M-80s. Worse yet, what if the parents were the ones doing so? It’s bad enough on the Fourth but for several days on either side of the holiday as well?

“It’s so disrespectful,” she said. “People are trying to sleep with work the next day. Children are sleeping. It really disturbs the animals. But it’s not only disrespectful for pet owners. (Military) veterans are really affected by the noise. They (the lawbreakers) are all about themselves. They have no respect for anyone. They just don’t care.”

They had their fun, leaving others to pay a price, she said.

“Chiquita has been a part of our family since Brisaeda was only 4 years old,” Liz Baxter told those who do care. “It was really hard watching our daughter cry in heartache over her puppy. Our family is deeply saddened.”