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Monday was a good day for the dogs of Marco Island. The Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department launched their Emergency Pet Care Program with a presentation inside the fence of the dog park within Mackle Park, “unleashing” a two-fold strategy to help both pets and the humans who love them.

The idea for the program, which Chief Mike Murphy credited to Firefighter/Paramedic Heath Nagel, arose as a result of a situation in which emergency responders often found themselves.

“We go on about 4,000 calls a year, and on lots of calls, we’re wondering what to do with the dog,” said Murphy. “What to do with animals in the home is a problem. We have to look for food, find a neighbor to watch them,” or the animal ends up in a cage at the police department or picked up by Domestic Animal Services.

Not only did this create a lot of work and confusion, it can also slow down rescuers in a situation when time is of the essence, said Murphy.

“You’ve got stroke victims, when every moment is critical, and they won’t leave their dogs.”

So the first part of the Emergency Pet Care Program is to have pet owners give information on their own pets. A form available from the Fire-Rescue Department lists pets, with type, name, and age, any special needs such as medication, what they eat and where to find it, and crucially, an alternate caregiver if the owner is incapacitated or unavailable. This Emergency Pet Care card asks for two or more choices, with phone numbers, if possible.

“Hang this on your refrigerator,” directs the form, so first responders will be looking there when they go out on a call. “We will utilize your pet care contacts and when we are unable to contact them, with will assist in contacting a temporary forter family for your pet until you are able to return home.”

This brings up the program’s second, but not secondary component – emergency pet care foster homes. The card asks anyone willing to help out their neighbors and their pets by becoming an emergency pet care foster home to let the department know, by emailing pets@cityofmarcoisland.com. That way, if the owner’s alternate caregivers are not available, or in the likely scenario that the card was never filled out, the department has a safe environment in which to temporarily place the household’s pets.

Showing that they excel at many things, but not necessarily spelling, the F.D.’s card begins by stating, “Marco Island Fire-Rescue understands the importance of the pets of our residence,” and “we have developed this program to assist in the needs of our residence in case of an emergency.” Public education coordinator Chris Bowden said they had noticed, and once they go through the 1,500 cards already printed they will amend “residence” to “residents.”

As the firefighters gave their presentation in the dog park, canine companions swarmed all around the feet of the human audience, and one silky terrier spoke up when Nagel asked if anyone had questions. The Emergency Pet Care Program was almost overshadowed, for the audience of about two dozen pet lovers, by the other component of the presentation – CPR for your pets.

Many pet owners have never thought about it, but dogs or cats, or any creature for that matter, can stop breathing in an emergency, due to drowning, smoke inhalation, or other trauma. There is a procedure for how to perform CPR, or cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and knowing it could make a life or death difference for your pet.

Nagel demonstrated the technique on a lifelike, medium-sized dog doll, much like the “Resusci-Annie” or similar mannequins used for human CPR. The procedure, he said, varies based on size, with one protocol for larger dogs, and another for cats or small dogs. With large dogs, place hands on the animal’s chest, give five compressions, and then one breath. For smaller pets, the number is 30 compressions and then two breaths.

In either case, it is important to shut the animal’s mouth, and blow into the nose, to achieve a proper seal. You should see the chest move. While waiting for help, perform CPR for up to 20 minutes before giving up, he advised.

Joe Chatfield was one of the first in the audience to try practicing on the doll, and had a serious reason for doing so.

“I lost a dog before. It’s not pretty,” he said. Samantha, his Lhasa Apso, drowned in a swimming pool about 15 years ago, and he was unable to revive her, despite making the effort. The mannequin came from Carole Roberts, who donated it in honor of her dog Shogie.

“My life was saved several years ago when someone performed CPR on me,” said Roberts. “My dogs are my children, and I’m sure yours are too.”

Murphy also thanked Val Simon, who provided strong support and resources to help the program.

Emergency Pet Care Cards, and instructions for pet CPR, are available at all Marco Island veterinary offices, city hall, the fire station, and the dog park at Mackle Park. Murphy also said every pet owner needs to know the location of the nearest after-hours veterinarian, Asch, at Davis and Collier Boulevard.

The fire department is available to repeat their program for interested groups, said Bowden.

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