Rescuing Rover: Dogs and cats get pet oxygen masks thanks to donations to local fire departments

Jill McKee, owner of Invisible Fence of Southwest Florida, shows off a wristband supporting pet oxygen masks. McKee donated five pet oxygen masks to the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue Department last Friday at the Humane Society Naples. Anne Claire Shilton special to the Daily News

Jill McKee, owner of Invisible Fence of Southwest Florida, shows off a wristband supporting pet oxygen masks. McKee donated five pet oxygen masks to the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue Department last Friday at the Humane Society Naples. Anne Claire Shilton special to the Daily News

To lose all of your earthly possessions in a house fire would be undeniably devastating. But, to lose your house, everything you own and your beloved cat or dog would be especially heartbreaking.

Although the U.S. Fire Administration doesn’t keep specific statistics on how many pets die amid the flames and panic of house fires, industry professionals estimate that more than 100,000 perish in this way annually.

Tragically, many of these pets are actually rescued by firefighters, only to die minutes later from the effects of smoke inhalation.

Now, pets in East Naples can breathe a bit easier.

Thanks to a donation from Jill McKee, owner of Invisible Fence of Southwest Florida, each East Naples Fire Control and Rescue Department’s stations is now equipped with a set of pet-specific oxygen mask kits.

McKee’s donation of five kits, each of which contain a small-, medium- and large-sized mask, a leash and instructions on using the masks, was made Friday on National Pet Fire Safety Day, during a donation ceremony at Humane Society Naples.

The donations are part of a national initiative by Invisible Fence, named Project Breathe, which to date has donated 3,000 masks to fire stations nationwide.

But for McKee, the project is personal.

“I couldn’t imagine the horror of losing my dog on top of losing everything else,” said McKee, adding, “they’re members of the family.”

With her at the donation ceremony was her blue-eyed 6-year-old border collie, Jack, who gamely modeled the masks for a photo op.

Collier County now has masks in three of its fire districts, and Mckee hopes to soon have masks at all of them. In April, McKee donated seven masks to the city of Naples Fire Department and she plans to give six to Marco Island’s stations and three to the Isles of Capri’s stations later this month. In August she hopes to donate five to the Estero Fire Department.

And the firefighters are happy to have them.

“In the past we’ve had to improvise very quickly with limited resources when we had a rescued pet suffering from smoke inhalation,” said Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Nelms. “You could try to get a human mask to fit a dog, but it didn’t really work, especially with a terrified or uncooperative animal.

“When we have products designed for their anatomy, it’s a win-win,” said Nelms.

In a fire, the process of combustion both eats up available oxygen supplies and produces noxious gases such as cyanide and carbon monoxide as a byproduct. The inhalation of these poisonous gasses, coupled with a lack of available oxygen and the severe respiratory burns caused by the sheer heat of the smoke can cause life-threatening pulmonary damage.

Applying medical oxygen helps streamline the delivery of oxygen to oxygen-deprived respiratory cells. It’s the first line of treatment in human smoke inhalation cases, and now, it will be for pets as well.

And, in Florida the masks have already been proven to save four-footed lives. In March, a Gainesville house fire ripped through a home with eight dogs in it. Minutes after the fire broke out, homeowner Chris Carney, who fosters rescued dogs waiting for new homes, screamed to the dogs to try and get them to exit the house — not knowing that seven of the dogs were already passed out inside the house from smoke inhalation.

Firefighters entered the home, rescued the unresponsive dogs one by one, and used pet oxygen masks to revive them. All but one survived.

As Nelms pointed out, there are implications here for saving more than just pets.

“These masks could also save the life of one of our working fire K-9s, who go into dangerous situations on a regular basis.”

Although the masks are made specifically for cats and dogs, when it comes using them to save other animals, Nelms says, “We’ll certainly try.”

“I just hope they don’t have to be used to often,” McKee said, “but I’m glad to know they may save a furry life.”

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