By MITCH TALLEY
Invisible Fence Chattanooga donates 14 life-saving pet
oxygen masks to Whitfield County Fire Department
Keeva the Siberian Husky sat quietly, waiting patiently for her chance to demonstrate one of the pet oxygen masks being donated to the Whitfield County Fire Department.
Along with her owner, Tami Fox, general manager of Invisible Fence Chattanooga, Keeva was at Station 8 on the South Bypass in July to deliver 14 kits full of the life-saving equipment specially designed for dogs, cats, birds, and other animals that might need oxygen after being overcome by smoke during a house fire.
“The addition of this new equipment will allow our firefighters to provide proper life-saving care for all of Whitfield County’s furry citizens,” says Lt. Jesse Bond, who contacted Invisible Fence earlier this year about Project Breathe, a nationwide campaign by the company aimed at saving the lives of pets with the special masks after fires.
Each of the 14 fire trucks in the county located at 12 stations will be equipped with one of the kits, Bond said, so that every time they go out on a call, the masks will be available if needed.
“Each shift will be familiarized with the masks,” Bond said, “on their proper use, care, and maintenance.”
The reusable masks come in small, medium, and large sizes that should fit most animals. Unlike the oxygen masks designed for humans that are flatter to fit over the face, these masks have a rubber seal to create an airtight seal around the animal’s snout. The first responder can hold the mask on the pet and bring it back to consciousness as oxygen is pumped into its mouth via a hose connected to an oxygen tank supplied by the fire department.
Fox said the masks are easy to use on animals – from dogs and cats to rabbits and gerbils – if they are unconscious. It’s trickier if they are awake. Putting an unknown object near an animal’s face if it is already anxious and panicked can induce a fight or flight response, she said, adding that it’s all about watching how stressed the animal is and not contributing to that.
In the past, county firefighters have been known to do what they could to try to save a pet overcome by smoke, sometimes holding a human oxygen mask close to the animal’s face, Fire Chief Ed O’Brien said.
“But there is a huge difference with this specialized mask,” he said. “With a human mask, the oxygen concentration isn’t as high since most of the oxygen just blows at the animal’s face. You can see by giving the animal some type of oxygen that it’s very beneficial to them.”
The kits also include a laminated chart that gives more detailed information such as how much oxygen is needed according to the size of the animal, as well as stickers that can be placed on fire trucks to remind first responders that the masks are onboard.
As of July 1, Fox says Invisible Fence has donated 10,665 such kits throughout the nation, and the equipment has helped save the lives of 229 animals, including multiple pets saved with the masks last Thanksgiving after two house fires in Tampa, Fla.
O’Brien says the department periodically brings animals out of structures that are on fire and will likely put the equipment to good use. Two weeks ago, for example, he said firefighters pulled six puppies and two large dogs out of a burning house.
“Another shift up on Cleveland Highway pulled a dog out of a fire one time,” he recalled, “and finally it caught some air and woke back up. But when they first came out with it, I didn’t think it was going to make it.”
Since people have been known to run back into burning homes to save a beloved pet, these masks will give residents comfort in knowing that firefighters can help their pets if they are suffering from smoke inhalation, O’Brien said.
“People take their animals serious,” he said. “In the past, sometimes, timing wise if we could, we might take an animal and put oxygen near its mouth, but then it’s just dispersing it into the air. These masks are cup-shaped and fit tightly on the snout, so the animal gets 100 percent oxygen then. It will be neat to have these masks – one of those things you hate to have to use, but it’s great to have them if you need them.”
Fox says Invisible Fence Chattanooga has donated about 75 of the kits in the area, with the most recent being in Dayton, Tenn. “We’re trying to push that number and do a little bit more,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to do a fund-raiser soon so we can do kind of a big push for the area.”
Invisible Fence has been a partner with Project Breathe since 2010, and Fox encouraged other fire departments and first responders to go to the company’s website and apply for the kits. “Once we get approval for them, we can then purchase the kits and set a meet and greet date to bring them out and show them the kits,” she said.
Although the U.S. Fire Administration doesn’t keep an official statistic, industry sources estimate 40,000 to 150,000 pets die each year in fires, with most succumbing to smoke inhalation. In most states, emergency responders lack the equipment to resuscitate and save pets.
“On behalf of the department and our citizens,” O’Brien said, “we appreciate this donation by Invisible Fence.”
Participation in Project Breathe is a natural fit for Invisible Fence. Back in 1973, a dog lover named Richard Peck made it his business — and his life’s work — to protect pets from danger, while allowing them to enjoy their independence. Working with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and Battelle Laboratories, he patented a groundbreaking invention: the world’s first electronic dog fence system. Now, nearly half a century later, Invisible Fence has protected more than 3 million pets worldwide with their underground pet fence, automatic pet door, and indoor and outdoor avoidance solutions.
“When a family suffers the tragedy of a fire, lives are turned upside down,” Fox said. “Pets are valued family members, so we want families to know that their pet can be cared for if tragedy strikes. We realize that humans are the first priority, but in many cases, pets can be saved if firefighters have the right equipment. Project Breathe is simply a way of giving firefighters the tools necessary to save pets’ lives.”