Pet Oxygen Masks Help Save the Day
A fire department uses innovative gear to rescue pets.
Jan. 16, 2008, developed into a fateful day for Zoe, a Chihuahua struck by a car outside an Austin, Texas shopping center, and for Temple Thomas, district commander of the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service.
Thomas, an EMS supervisor, happened to drive right past after the accident. He didn’t see the cars hit the dogs, but he noticed a crowd gathered in the parking lot. He went to see the reason and discovered a little brown pile crumpled on the ground.
Zoe and another little dog, who also was run over, lay motionless. Bystanders said traffic had stopped for the two Chihuahuas, both off the leash, as they crossed the street, but one car drove around and sped into the dogs.
One dog was beyond help, Thomas said.
“One dog was just crushed,” he said, but he couldn’t tell if the other Chihuahua was still alive.
“Zoe was just lying there,” he said. “I couldn’t tell if she was breathing.”
Thomas had a pet oxygen mask in the car. He had never used it before, but he grabbed the device, opened Zoe’s airway and delivered a blast of oxygen.
“Her eyes opened, and she started to respond,” he said.
Pet oxygen masks work because the muzzle fits properly over the animal’s face and better directs oxygen into the animal’s lungs, according to Boston firefighter Steve MacDonald, the public information officer. With a human mask, much of the oxygen escapes into the air.
“The Boston Fire Department just received 60 pet oxygen masks in October due to two grants from the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association and the Wellpet Foundation, MacDonald said. The Boston firefighters haven’t used the masks in the field yet, he said, but the devices are expected to improve animals’ chance to survive a fire or an accident.
“Animals require oxygen as soon as possible when they’ve inhaled smoke, and the sooner the better,” said Brian Adams, spokesman for MSPCA-Angell. “At our hospital, we do treat a number of victims of smoke inhalation,” he said, and the ones that receive oxygen at the scene have a better chance than animals that have to wait.
“Those are the moments that are incredibly crucial in saving an animal’s life,” he said.
That first look from Zoe won his heart, Thomas remembered.
“We clicked,” he said, “the minute she opened up those big brown eyes.” Neither dog had a tag, so it was unclear if Zoe’s owner would come forward. But Thomas made a promise.
“If no one claims her, she’s mine,” he said.
Meanwhile, he picked up both dogs and rushed Zoe to Austin’s emergency animal hospital. She stayed in intensive care four days, and he visited her every one of them. When she was ready to be discharged, he paid $250 for the adoption fee and took her home. The hospital wouldn’t charge him for the veterinary bill, he said.
Thomas used the pet oxygen mask again two days after he saved Zoe. This time, he treated a dog rescued from a house fire.
Pet oxygen masks are not new, but Susan Curtis, executive director of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, believes only about four or five state associations (Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, besides Massachusetts) are working to equip rescue workers with pet oxygen masks.
So far, her association has helped 150 Bay State communities buy a pet oxygen mask. The goal is to deliver a mask to all 351 Massachusetts cities and towns and then to equip all the fire departments, she said.
The Wellpet Foundation contributed $2,267 for the Boston Fire Department’s 35 oxygen masks and the association delivered 25 more masks, Adams said.
The Boston fire commissioner arranged for the financial assistance after an employee mentioned pet oxygen masks could save animals’ lives, MacDonald said. The employee didn’t want to be named, he said.
“She has a German shepherd, and she’s a pet lover,” he said.
As for Zoe, she became a celebrity in Austin, Thomas said. She even accompanied him to an award dinner, a black tie event. Waiters brought Zoe her own plate, he said.
"Now, she's a little diva," he said.
Pictured: Temple N. Thomas with Zoe. (Photo courtesy of Temple N. Thomas)
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