Because they can’t get out of the house on their own, pets are at special risk when fire strikes and often suffer smoke inhalation and need oxygen when rescued.
Without special oxygen masks designed to fit over an animal’s snout, first responders are often unable to help, but Wilton-based pet care provider Canine Company is trying to change that.
In 2016, the company donated 124 life-saving pet oxygen masks to 58 fire departments and rescue squads in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and New Jersey as part of its Canine Saves campaign.
Canine Company began donating pet oxygen masks through the Project Breathe program, organized by Invisible Fence, in 2008.
“Last year, we rebranded it as Canine Saves so that we could really focus on our local community,” said Canine Saves coordinator Debra Bennetts.
Thirty-six pet oxygen masks were donated to communities throughout the Northeast in 2015, said Bennetts, and 500 to 600 masks have been donated since 2008.
“A lot of Connecticut has already been outfitted with the masks,” said Bennetts, including Wilton, which “received some several years back.”
Three Connecticut communities — Danbury and West Redding’s volunteer fire departments and the Cromwell Fire Department — requested and received pet oxygen masks from Canine Company last year.
Bennetts said the pet oxygen mask donation program is an important one because “pets are at greater risk when there’s a house fire because they can’t get out of the house on their own.”
“If there’s no one home, they are very likely to suffer smoke inhalation,” she said, “and even if there is someone home, pets will sometimes hide because they don’t know that they’re supposed to leave the house.”
Because of this, pets are at greater risk than humans for suffering from smoke inhalation, Bennetts said.
“Some statistics from the insurance industry say that about 150,000 pets die in home fires each year,” she said, “and that’s primarily from smoke inhalation.”
When firefighters rescue pets from house fires, Bennetts said, “they have found that the human oxygen masks are not an effective way to deliver oxygen [to them].”
“If you think about the design of the mask and difference between the shape of a human face and the shape of an animal’s face — an animal has a pointed snout, a human has a flat face,” she said.
“When firefighters try to use a pediatric- size oxygen mask, it doesn’t create a good seal and the pet doesn’t get the oxygen needed to be resuscitated.”
Bennetts said firefighters have shared stories with her about ways in which they have tried to remedy this problem — a common one being the use of Styrofoam coffee cups.
“They’ll take a Styrofoam coffee cup, cut a hole in the bottom, stick the hose through it, and put the coffee cup over the pet’s mouth to make sure they’re actually getting the oxygen,” said Bennetts.
With pet oxygen masks — which have been used by veterinarians for years, said Bennetts — delivering oxygen to animals suffering from smoke inhalation is not a problem.
The cone-shaped pet oxygen masks fit securely over animals’ snouts and connect to standard oxygen tanks carried by rescue teams.
Each Canine Saves oxygen mask kit includes three sizes, which fit pets of all sizes — from small mammals like rabbits, said Bennetts, to large pets like Great Danes.
According to Canine Company, five fire departments that received masks in 2015 and 2016 reported using them to resuscitate family pets rescued in home fires during the year.
In addition to pet oxygen masks, Canine Company provided first responders with more than 2,500 “Pets Inside” decals to distribute to pet owners.
When affixed to the front door or window, the decals alert first responders that there are pets in the home. Free decals may be requested at http://bit.ly/2hVqjEt.
To learn more about Canine Company, visit caninecompany.com.