The moment the first fireworks thundered in the night sky, Holly darted from her Alexandria yard and disappeared into the darkness.

The brown-and-white beagle mix, her owner Terri Lentz said, "was off before we could even say her name."

The dog's flight sent Lentz and her husband, Ken, on a frantic search that would keep the family up until 3 a.m., scouring the neighborhood in search of their beloved pet.

When Holly still hadn't turned up yesterday morning, Lentz called the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria where director Kate Pullen answered the first of many missing dog calls she expects in the next few days.

Area animal shelters, most of which will reopen today after the holiday weekend, are bracing for one of their busiest times. While Independence Day fireworks are fun for the Washington area's two-legged residents, many of the four-legged ones are so frightened by the blasts that they jump fences, tear through screens and even harm themselves.

"There are quivering, shivering, terrified animals out there," said Sharon Kessler, executive director of the Montgomery County Department of Animal Control. "We get animals who come through windows. We see dogs who crush door knobs trying to get back into the house. I heard of one dog who tried to get behind a [bureau] and actually threw it over trying to get somewhere dark and safe."

At the Montgomery shelter, the phone lines yesterday were busy with reports of lost dogs, Kessler said. Pullen and other workers at the Alexandria shelter filed reports of two missing dogs and also heard from two residents who found dogs running loose.

Jules Billard, of Alexandria, stopped at the shelter yesterday morning to drop off a friendly golden retriever mix.

His wife had found the dog exhausted and panting in the back yard when there had been a lot of noise from fireworks, he said.

The frightened retriever, which didn't have a collar, still hadn't found its owner yesterday afternoon.

Animal experts recommend keeping dogs inside on Independence Day with the windows closed and the air conditioning running to block out the noise of fireworks. Several boarding kennels and shelters in the area said they played soothing music for their animals when the blasts began and even used sedatives to calm the most skittish.

Dogs have varying levels of sensitivity to the blasts, said Jerry Hinn, a veterinarian at Hayfield Animal Hospital in Alexandria. Hinn said some of his clients tranquilized their dogs while others opted for giving their animals a herbal mix containing chamomile and St. John's Wort to "take the edge off."

Jack, a black retriever puppy who spent Sunday in downtown D.C. with his master and mistress, was rewarded with hugs, treats and a dip in a fountain after he made it safely through his first fireworks display.

"He was very scared, but we held him," said Kirby Files, 27, a network engineer from Alexandria. "It wasn't fair to leave him home."

While Jack's owners were able to keep him calm, Bill Sorensen didn't have a chance to soothe his Alaskan malamute, Rowan. The two were sitting near an Arlington bike path Sunday night when some nearby community fireworks began. Rowan bolted, pulling her leash out of Sorensen's hand.

"She freaked out," Sorensen said. "She got away with me running after her, but she was going 100 miles an hour."

Sorensen drove through the neighborhood looking for Rowan, who had watched fireworks before and had never reacted so severely. He called the local animal shelters and hospitals, plastered his neighborhood with missing posters and began visiting parks to ask other dog owners if they had seen the black-and-white dog.

Sorensen said he is particularly worried because Rowan has a condition that requires daily medication to prevent seizures.

"We're just hoping that someone took her in," Sorensen said. "She's very friendly and was dragging her leash, so people should be able to figure out what happened."

Lentz ended up as one of the lucky owners yesterday. A man who found Holly "cowering" in his yard took the dog in overnight and called the Alexandria shelter yesterday. Pullen quickly made the match and called Lentz with the good news.

"We got her back," Lentz said. "We're very excited and we're very thankful."

CAPTION: Jules Billard, of Alexandria, talks with Kate Pullen of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria about the dog his wife found after noisy fireworks.