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Dogs, Humans Brace For An Unusual Thunder Over Louisville

Phyllis Breuer's dog Gracie will be wearing her Thundershirt on Saturday to try to stay calm for the fireworks show planned less than a mile away.
Phyllis Breuer's dog Gracie will be wearing her Thundershirt on Saturday to try to stay calm for the fireworks show planned less than a mile away.

Louisvillians are prepping for an unusual Thunder Over Louisville. While some are excited at the prospect of being able to see one of three fireworks displays from outside their own homes, others are anxious about how their pets will react, and worry for people who are sensitive to loud sounds or unaware a large explosive display is planned for their neighborhood.

After taking a year off due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Derby Festival is bringing Thunder Over Louisville back this Saturday. To avoid drawing massive crowds together during an ongoing pandemic, organizers scrapped the show’s traditional Waterfront Park location, and instead planned three pop-up sites throughout the area.

The Kentucky Derby Festival tried to keep the locations secret, which CEO Matt Gibson said was meant to prevent people from gathering and potentially spreading the coronavirus. But the sites were leaked this week when journalists and other curious people found them listed on a public permit site.

On Friday evening, Festival organizers announced they were switching gears: Instead of five sites, they said they would only use three. They said they were concerned about “mass gatherings” at the five sites publicized earlier in the week.

Len Hayes found out Thursday on Facebook that one of the sites is Bowman Field, less than a mile from her home. Hayes has a four-year-old Doberman named Angel, who is scared of fireworks. They were out in Hayes’ backyard for some exercise and sunshine on Friday afternoon.

“[Angel] has anxiety, so I’m glad I found out,” she said.

Hayes works nights as a bartender, and won’t be able to stay home to comfort Angel during the show Saturday, so she’s sending her to stay with her son in Bardstown for the night.

“It’s okay now that I know. I just wanted to know ahead of time so that I can make sure she’s not by herself at home,” she said.

A few blocks away, Phyllis Breuer was taking her eleven-year-old husky-shepherd mix Gracie for a walk. Breuer said she thinks the pop-up fireworks idea will give more people a chance to enjoy the show, and she’s “sorry somebody broke the surprise.”

“I mean, how many people are going to gather?” she worried.

Breuer said she planned to enjoy the show from home. But as for Gracie, “from a dog’s point of view, she will hate it,” Breuer said.

On Saturday, Gracie will be wearing her “Thundershirt,” a tight-fitting shirt with velcro straps that can make some dogs feel safer during loud events like fireworks and thunderstorms. The product is not affiliated with the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Meanwhile, Breuer’s neighbor Mike Stamon said he’s looking forward to the event, especially the air show, which will be flown out of Bowman Field.

“I have a grandson and some grandchildren that love airplanes, so they’re hopefully coming over to watch the planes come and go,” he said.

As for the fireworks, Stamon said he “has no problem with it.”

“It’s a 20-minute ordeal, starts at 9:30 and will be over with by 10:00,” he said.

Festival organizers said the sites  will be Bowman Field, the Kentucky Exposition Center and Caesars Southern Indiana.

As of Friday evening, the fireworks permits were no longer available through Louisville’s Metro’s online business portal. Will Ford, a spokesperson for the city, said that would be resolved.

Instead of gathering at the sites, festival organizers are encouraging fans to watch from their homes on WHAS11, or listen to the soundtrack on WVEZ 106.9 FM.

This story has been updated to reflect the changed plans announced by the Kentucky Derby Festival on Friday evening. The organization will produce Thunder Over Louisville from three sites, instead of the original five announced weeks ago.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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