While fire departments are ready to battle blazes and rescue victims at a moment’s notice, not every unit is equipped to assist pets affected by smoke inhalation.
With new pet oxygen masks donated by Invisible Fence’s Project Breathe program, the Kirkland Fire Department will be able to help pets on the scene of a fire and hopefully reduce the number of pet fatalities.
Each year, it’s estimated more than 40,000 pets die in fires, most succumbing to smoke inhalation. In most cases, first responders lack the equipment to resuscitate and save these animals. Since Project Breathe’s inception in 2006, a total of 24,000 masks have been donated to first responders and nearly 200 animal lives have been saved.
As part of its 45th anniversary this year, Invisible Fence is donating 45 pet oxygen mask kits (135 pet oxygen masks), to fire departments across the country through Project Breathe. Kirkland received its donation on Oct. 4, during National Fire Safety Month.
The donation was made by Invisible Fence of Northwest’s general manager Tammy Sully, who brought her dogs Jake and Daisy along to help firefighters learn how to use the masks. On-site pet demonstrations were provided by Dr. Christine Wilford, DVM, of Island Cats Veterinary Hospital on Mercer Island.
Wilford said that the masks are easy to use on animals – from dogs and cats to rabbits and gerbils – if they are unconscious, but that it gets trickier if they are awake. Putting an unknown object near an animal’s face if it is already anxious and panicked can induce a fight or flight response.
When the animals engage in self defense, they may end up harming those who are trying to help them. Wilford said it’s all about “watching how stressed the animal is, and not contributing to that.”
Along with teaching firefighters how to use the oxygen masks, Wilford also demonstrated how to perform CPR on dogs and cats.
The city of Kirkland was grateful for the donation, according to Communications Program Manager Kellie Stickney, but wanted to emphasize that this equipment will be available only at the scene of a fire and if there are no other safety concerns. For other pet emergencies, residents should call a veterinarian or animal hospital.
There are ways to let first responders know if there are pets in your home, in case of emergency. You can place a label at the entryway that details the number and type of animals living there, or carry a card in your wallet. These and other resources are available at the Invisible Fence office in Kirkland.
For more on Project Breathe, see www.invisiblefence.com/why-invisible-fence/project-breathe.