Stow -- Gracie, a Labrador retriever adopted by Amanda Davis, a supervisor at Stow-Kent Animal Hospital, is one lucky dog.
Gracie was among a group of animals rescued from a barn fire by the Edinburg Fire Department last January.
Besides some burn scars, Gracie has recovered from her injuries.
Some other animals, however, including puppies, weren't as fortunate. In some cases, smoke inhalation may have been to blame.
If the department had pet oxygen masks to deliver clean air to the animals instead of having them breathe "ambient" air, Davis said, the department may have been able to save a few more.
"Through this entire experience, we learned that most departments do not have appropriate equipment to save animals in the event of a fire," Davis said.
Davis and the Stow-Kent Animal Hospital began raising money to cover the costs and training for the breathing units that could be donated to area departments. One kit at wholesale price costs about $60.
The animal hospital then established a partnership with Invisible Fence Brand's nationwide Project Breathe program, which helps donate such materials and training to fire departments across America and Canada.
Their combined efforts culminated with an event Jan. 13 at the Stow Community Room at City Hall where numerous area fire departments received masks and training in the use of the pet masks courtesy of the animal hospital and Invisible Fence Brand, which even offers to replace the masks in the future for free.
"We donated to 13 fire departments, which makes a total of 20 kits," Davis said. "The hospital then donated $767 to their foundation, which provides the Project Breathe Program."
Invisible Fence Brand became involved in the project after identifying the need.
"Almost five years ago, Invisible Fence Brand realized that the number of animals that succumb to smoke inhalation due to house fires was not a national statistic that was provided by the U.S. Fire Association," said Christina Szmurlo, community outreach manager for Invisible Fence Brand. "We had heard that the statistic could be anywhere between 40,000 to 150,000 animals per year, and due to that staggering number, we knew that we needed to create a program that could provide fire department personnel a better way to save these pet's lives that are often considered family members.
"This is important to the community because people love to know that their pets will get taken care of in a time of need," she added. "Of course our fire personnel will help humans first in rescue situations, but when the situation arises that a family could lose everything to in a house fire, the last thing they need to lose is their pet as well."
The Stow Fire Department was joined at the Jan. 13 event by departments from Ravenna, Streetsboro, Bath, Kent, Tallmadge, Suffield, Twinsburg, Munroe Falls, Atwater, Edinburg Township, the Valley Fire District, and the Mantua-Shalersville Fire District.
Kits, which feature instructions, leashes and three sizes of oxygen masks, were distributed among the fire departments while fire/medics were trained on the devices' use.
PET oxygen MASKS
Capt. Rick Hohenadel, a 23-year Stow Fire Department veteran, said this is the first time such equipment and training was donated to the fire department.
He noted the Stow department had a couple masks, but not enough to carry on each fire truck. He also said their last masks were old and outdated.
"This is great for the community," he said. "This is just another service that we offer now, along with other things. This is just a really great thing to have."
He explained how the masks fit over a pet's snout much better than masks designed for people. The units are designed primarily for dogs and cats, he said, but noted the smaller masks can even be used on tinier creatures, like guinea pigs or even snakes.
Tubes attach the masks to oxygen tanks that deliver clean air, which is crucial when a pet is suffering from smoke inhalation.
"Stations have had successful saves without these kits, however, we all agree that these pet oxygen masks, while we hope they never have to use them, makes everything much easier," Szmurlo said. "Firefighters have used these masks on pets that are completely unconscious and seen them get back on all four paws in a matter of minutes."
Hohenadel said the training session instructed firefighters on how to use the masks and even included a discussion on pet "body language."
"Pets can be very important to their families. You'll go on calls where someone will give you a name and say they're still in the house," he said, referencing how the person would be referring to a pet. "It's important for us to realize what they're talking about, so we'll ask. We'll go back in, but we won't risk lives to save a dog. And if we can get the dog out, it's important to start treatment right away, especially if they're dealing with smoke inhalation."
"I think this provides a lot of reassurance to the people in the communities," said Davis. "I also feel that it will save more lives in the future. The firemen take the chance and save animals when they can. And for this we are grateful."
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