Published DateBy Lloyd Jones
FREEDOM — While pet oxygen masks have been used for decades by veterinarians in offices and hospitals, their use in the field by first responders — firefighters, paramedics and animal rescue teams — has been building for a decade, experts say. On Saturday, thanks to a generous donation by the Piscataqua Obedience Club, the Town of Freedom will receive three Recovery Oxygen Mask kits for animals ranging in size from horses to dogs to cats and ferrets.
A ceremony is planned for 1 p.m. at the Freedom Fire Department by members of the club (Laura Jepson, president; Sarah Todd, secretary; Wanda Jesonis, judge; Mary Lou Graper, longtime club member and Freedom resident and her husband Glen). Also in attendance will be Freedom fire chief Justin "Cubby" Brook; town clerk Libby Priebe; Joanne Gayer, the town's animal control officer; "Boone" the Freedom police dog and his handler, officer Matthew Tyler; and "Ritt" Gayer, volunteer fireman and photographer.
"Over the years, it has become obvious that dogs, cats and other domestic animals have become not just pets to families but actual family members," said Graper, who along with her husband share their home with two Newfoundland dogs — Ellie, who is 7, and Demo (short for "Demonstration, Demolition, or Demonic depending on the day," says a laughing Graper). "The bond between families and their pets have evolved into a family tradition that now includes 'four-footed' family members.
"With so many pets now entering families and becoming such a major part of the equation, more care has to be given to animals associated with families," she continued. "Because of this increasing 'four-footed' family members, they can also be affected by horrendous situations like car accidents, fires and natural disasters."
Graper said this year her club, the Piscataqua Obedience Club located in Kittery, Maine, purchased Recovery Oxygen Mask kits and presented them to various fire department in the Seacoast area.
"Since I'm a member of the club and now live here they're doing a presentation in Freedom," Graper, who has owned or been owned by Newfies for 71 years, said. "They come with a kit with the largest size able to fit on foals and calves and the smallest can fit on a kitten. This is something the club really wanted to do. We believe they're more than pets, they're family members, too."
"Losing a pet due to a house fire or toxic fumes can be a devastating experience," the Project Pet Paws website states. "Unlike humans who instinctively run out during fires, pets instinctively look for a hiding place to protect them from the fire. Far too many pets die each year of smoke asphyxiation. While firemen attempt to get pets safely out of burning structures, they are not able to revive them unless they have the proper equipment — pet oxygen masks. These specially designed animal masks can be used both on conscious pets that have suffered from smoke inhalation and pets that need to be resuscitated after losing consciousness from exposure to the dangerous toxic fumes."
The cone-shaped masks are designed with enough depth to fit over an animal's nose and mouth, making the delivery of oxygen more effective than it is with masks made for people's flatter faces. The pet masks have a rubber seal that creates a snug fit around the snout. Rescuers have improvised with human masks on pets with mixed results.
Just removing an animal from a smoky fire isn't always enough. As with people, the earlier that oxygen is delivered to combat poisonous carbon monoxide, the better for those animals that wouldn't otherwise survive the trip to the hospital.
"Immediate oxygen therapy can make the difference between life and death in severely affected pets," says Elke Rudloff, an emergency and critical care veterinarian outside Milwaukee said in a USA Today article last year.
"I think the masks will make a difference," Graper said. "I also really hope they never have to be used, but if they're needed we'll have them in Freedom."