BELDING — It’s a moment no firefighter wants to come across when searching through a burning home — the sound of a trapped dog barking for help or the discovery of a frightened cat hiding under a bed.
But those moments do happen, and just as firefighters would rescue an adult or child, those animals also need rescue.
Now, thanks to a donation from Town & Country Animal Clinic in Eureka Township, Belding firefighters will make sure the next time they rescue a trapped animal it will be properly cared for, especially if it has trouble breathing or isn’t breathing at all.
The donation from Town & Country came in the form of new oxygen recovery masks designed for pets. The masks were acquired through the Project Breathe charity by the Invisible Fence Company’s Rockford location.
Dr. Peter Blinkilde, a veterinarian with Town & Country said the goal of the oxygen masks are to be helpful to the animals and to buy time for owners to get their pet to a veterinarian if the animal is suffering from smoke inhalation.
The masks, which come in three sizes and fit over the snout of an animal, will be used for breathing problems and providing supplemental oxygen to the animal.
“When I asked the firefighters how often they encounter pets at fires, the answer was a lot,” Blinkilde said. “There was a great deal of interest in how they might be able to help pets in a fire.”
Blinkilde and Tom Winquist of Invisible Fence spent a recent evening training firefighters on how to properly apply the masks as well as train them on how to properly perform CPR on animals.
“One of the neat things about this equipment is that it is reusable and that the connections are the same for the oxygen equipment used for people,” Blinkilde said. “It is quick, easy, and as it is with people, early intervention can save the life of a pet. Pets suffer from smoke inhalation just like people.”
According to the Invisible Fence website, an estimated 40,000 to 150,000 pets die each year in fires; most succumbing to smoke inhalation. More than 10,000 masks have been donated through the Project Breathe charity, with each mask costing about $60.
Blinkilde stressed that the first priority of firefighters is to rescue any persons involved in a fire, but added that now firefighters will have an option available to assist pets as well.
“The equipment is easy enough for a firefighter to hook up and for a pet’s owner to manage while a firefighter moves on to other duties if needed,” he said.
Lt. Tim Lubitz of the Belding Fire Department said he first came across the idea of providing oxygen to pets after he saw the resources used by other fire departments online.
“I didn’t know who else in the area had anything like that, but I thought it would be nice for us to have,” he said.
Lubitz said he is grateful to Town & Country for working with Invisible Fence for the donation, noting the fire department’s budget doesn’t allow for items that “may not be considered essential for firefighting.”
Lubitz said the life of a pet is incredibly important and having the oxygen masks available on scene will serve as a great benefit to the department.
“I have children and they are very important to me, but some people don’t have children, though they do have animals,” he said. “Their pets are like their kids. Sometimes they’re more concerned about their pets than themselves.”
With the closest animal emergency center located in Grand Rapids, Lubitz is hopeful the new masks will make a difference locally and possibly save a pet’s life.
“We can now give them simple oxygen if they are already breathing, or if they aren’t breathing, we can forcefully ventilate for them,” he said. “We encounter pets at fires all the time, so being prepared to treat them for smoke inhalation is very important.”
Blinkilde said Town & Country is also looking to donate pet oxygen masks to the Greenville Department of Public Safety as well as the Lakeview District Fire Department.