Dog breath: Pet oxygen breathing masks donated to local fire departments

Fire department staff from Marco and Isles of Capri join Fiora, Council Chairman Jerry Gibson's dog, along with Jill McKee of Invisible Fence of Southwest Florida and her dog Jack Thursday morning at Mackle Park. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

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Fire department staff from Marco and Isles of Capri join Fiora, Council Chairman Jerry Gibson's dog, along with Jill McKee of Invisible Fence of Southwest Florida and her dog Jack Thursday morning at Mackle Park. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

In the event of an emergency, firefighters want to save your family members – all of them. That includes not only the two-legged, or human variety, but also your pets.

Now, a dog-centered Southwest Florida business has stepped up to help emergency responders keep pets alive in case of a fire, heat stroke or drowning emergency. Invisible Fence of Southwest Florida donated nine pet oxygen mask kits to the Marco Island and Isles of Capri fire departments, at a ceremony Thursday morning at Canine Cove within Mackle Park.

Jill McKee, owner of the Invisible Fence franchise, used City Council Chairman Jerry Gibson’s Cane Corso, Fiora, to demonstrate how the oxygen masks works on a variety of dogs and other pet animals, while Gibson, who bears a strong resemblance, looked on approvingly.

“You can see how well it fits a variety of muzzles,” said McKee. “Each kit comes with three different size masks, to handle different animals.”

Isles of Capri Fire/Rescue Captain Tom Purcell said the three kits his department received would be on their trucks, and also on the department’s fireboat. For pet owners, the safety of their pets is crucial, he said.

“To most families that have pets, they’re like their children. We don’t overlook them at all when we go out. We deal with residents with dogs on Keewaydin Island,” he said. “It helps greatly to have a mask designed for dogs.”

Fiora was a cooperative, even enthusiastic demonstration patient, although she kept looking to see if any more treats would be forthcoming. McKee pointed out that typically, when the masks are used, the animal starts out unconscious, or at least too weak to move.

“It’s not only about fires and smoke inhalation,” although that is the most common use for the equipment, which attaches to the standard oxygen tanks the emergency vehicles carry, said Marco Fire/Rescue Deputy Chief Chris Byrne. “Dogs fall into canals, and swim themselves into exhaustion. We get them out, and need to transport them.”

And, said Byrne, it’s not just dogs.

“You gotta be open. There are cats, ferrets, birds – just think of all the unusual pets people have in their homes.”

Invisible Fence has donated 23 of the kits, which cost about $100 apiece, to a total of five local fire departments, said McKee, including the City of Naples, East Naples, and Estero fire districts.

“We want to get these to every department,” she said. Locally, an iguana was rescued with the mask, and in Gainesville, five dogs were saved by using the equipment, said McKee.

Gibson and Fiora headed out, but not before the councilman put in a pitch for the city’s dog park, which he said has become a model for several others in Collier County.

To learn more about Project Breathe visit www.invisiblefence.com/O2 or call Jill McKee at (239) 498-2742.

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