Only two weeks after receiving pet oxygen masks as a donation from a local elementary school, the Volunteer Fire Department of Prospect Inc. in Connecticut put one to use on a small Yorkshire Terrier that was caught in a structure fire.
On the verge of unconsciousness, the dog was found in the upstairs of the building by two firefighters who were on the search after learning from the owner that the dog was missing, Fire Chief Robert Chatfield recalled. The dog was brought downstairs and a firefighter placed a pet oxygen mask over the snout.
"Probably within 10 or 15 minutes, the little puppy was up running around," Chatfield said.
Chatfield, still dressed in his fire gear, visited the elementary school shortly after the incident to explain to the children how the mask helped the dog.
Chatfield's fire department serves as one example of many search-and-rescue teams that are adding pet oxygen masks to their equipment checklists.
One distributor of the masks, Smiths Medical PM Inc. in Waukesha, Wis., has noticed an increase in use by fire departments.
"The masks were originally sold to veterinarians. However, in the past three years, they have been used more and more frequently by search-and-rescue groups, and especially fire departments," said Brandi Marks, customer service manager at Smiths Medical.
The masks distributed by Smiths Medical are designed to deliver oxygen to animals recovering from surgery or beset by smoke inhalation or trauma. They can be used on any animal with a muzzle, beak, or snout that fits in the mask.
Several organizations have contributed to the growing popularity of pet oxygen masks among fire departments. For example, Best Friends Pet Care runs a matching-donation campaign called Cause for Paws. The Norwalk, Conn.-based company helps provide the masks to fire and rescue teams in communities where their pet care centers are located. Since launching the campaign in the summer of 2004, Best Friends has distributed more than 2,600 mask sets to about 450 fire departments in 20 states.
The campaign was inspired by a Best Friends client who was a firefighter, according to Deb Bennetts, director of the Cause for Paws campaign. The client was dropping his dogs off for boarding when he shared with staff a negative experience he recently had when trying to save a pet with a human oxygen mask. One of the staff members happened to know pet oxygen masks were available. From there, Bennetts found a supplier of the masks, ordered some, and then had the pet care center deliver them to the client's fire department.
As word about the donation spread, Bennetts said, other fire departments and community groups started calling and asking how to order the masks.
"We realized that this was something that pet owners universally would feel strongly about, that if you have a dog, cat, or a small pet in your home, you're going to want to know that if there's ever a fire at your house, the local fire department can help save them," Bennetts said.
H.E.L.P. Animals Inc., a nonprofit organization in Orange City, Fla., also organizes donations of pet oxygen masks. The group distributes the masks to government agencies, volunteer fire and rescue operations, nonprofits relating to animal rescue and wildlife rehabilitation, and several other groups. H.E.L.P. has distributed more than 2,700 mask sets throughout the United States and Canada.
To learn more about the Best Friends Pet Care campaign, visit www.bestfriendspetcare.com/, or for more on the H.E.L.P. Animals Inc. campaign, log on to www.helpanimalsinc.org.