The Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department is the recipient of some special new equipment, donated in the wake of a tragedy that claimed the lives of nine household pets earlier this year.
The Happy Dogs Legacy Fund seeks to bring oxygen masks designed specifically for pets to every firehall in B.C. and has now added Mesachie Lake to it’s list of almost 100 departments that have received kits, sometimes as many as a dozen.
Gary Eve, fire chief in Mesachie Lake, said when he first learned of the program, which is entirely free for the fire department, getting involved was a no-brainer.
“With these tools, if we happen to come across an animal we can help, we have the ability to do it, so why not?” said Eve.
Each kit contains three oxygen masks (small, medium, large), a leash, a small bag of dog biscuits and dry cat food, and instructions for using the masks. Unlike the oxygen masks used on humans, these can be washed and re-used.
The effort to bring these kits to departments across the province started as a result of a house fire in Burnaby on May 24 in which seven dogs and two cats died due to smoke inhalation. The home was that of Dove Cresswell, an accomplished dog trainer who also runs a dog care business and was looking after four of the seven dogs that perished.
“The masks, customized to fit on pet’s faces, provide lifesaving oxygen to resuscitate animals that are overcome by smoke,” according to the Happy Dogs Legacy website. “The pet masks are shaped differently to fit properly over the mouth of a pet, be it a cat, bunny, dog or bird, so that it creates a strong seal to receive the oxygen it needs.”
The animals at Cresswell’s house were not killed by the actual flames.
“Like humans, more pets are killed by the smoke inhalation and the chemicals in the fire than the actual fire itself,” explained Eve.
The Mesachie Lake Volunteer Fire Department does not have a specific policy on the books when it comes to rescuing pets. Eve recalls a special training from years ago for dealing with horses and large animals, which can be dangerous in a fire. But Eve said he has not heard of special pet training for firefighters, nor has he been in a situation to use such skills.
Each pet oxygen mask kit contains an instruction manual, outlining steps for performing CPR on dogs or cats.
“Big chested animals [you should] have them on their back and perform CPR, and long or narrow-chested dogs like grey hounds, to lay them on their side. Most dogs in fact, they lay them on their side and compress over the heart, 100 times a minute,” said Eve.
He said he does not plan on incorporating pet resuscitation into his team’s training at the firehall because he thinks it would be too challenging to find a dog that would cooperate with having a mask put over its face.
However, Eve emphasized that his number one priority is always that of his staff.
“When safe to do so, [we] remove the people. Their animals if they’re around… To actually risk people for [animal] rescue, I don’t know how that would go over. We’ve never been in that situation. I’m responsible to my crew first,” he said.
In more than 25 years fighting fires, Eve has yet to encounter a situation to use a pet oxygen mask, but said that doesn’t mean they aren’t important tools to have.
“We own some pretty expensive tools that we don’t use often but they’re there to help when needed,” he said.
While situations like the fire in Burnaby that killed the nine animals are tragic, they are also not so common, especially if animals are not trapped in kennels or carriers when a fire breaks out.
“Animals have a pretty good instinct for life,” said Eve. “Those stories of Lassie sticking around to pull Timmy out of the fire usually don’t happen. You open the door and the dog or cat are usually gone in a flash. They have that instinct.”