Florida Animal Activist Donates Pet Masks To Fire Dept.

Delray Beach Fire Rescue Division Chief Rob Moreland loves pets, especially dogs.

He has two Lhasa apsos. That's why he was pleased his department was getting oxygen masks to carry on emergency vehicles to help save household pets overcome by smoke.

"Over the years, we've rescued hundreds of pets and had to use human oxygen masks to try and revive them," he said. "So many people have pets and, sadly, they are often the last to get saved. Many people simply forget that a pet is still in the house."

The Best Chance for Pets fund is donating the masks.

Debbie Barnes saw a CNN TV special about firefighters in Seminole County using special dog and cat masks to administer oxygen to pets rescued from burning buildings.

The animal activist who lives west of Boynton Beach knew she had to do something for the cats and dogs of Palm Beach County. So she contacted the Seminole County Public Safety Department to find out how to go about setting up a similar program.

After speaking with public information Officer Alan Harris, Barnes started The Best Chance for Pets fund to provide as many masks as she can raise the money to buy.

"I just couldn't bear the thought of losing my dog, Chance, just because a $40 piece of equipment wasn't available," she said.

Barnes did some checking with Palm Beach County fire and rescue agencies and realized it would be easier and faster to give them the masks, rather than cash.

"As soon as you contribute money for something like this, all sorts of obstacles present themselves," said Barnes, 50. "Cities have to consider going out for bids, keeping track of the money, things like that."

So she simply opened an account at Palm Beach County Bank, and the project has snowballed.

"When I went to the bank and told them what I wanted to do, the ladies working there thought it was a great idea. In fact, they contributed some money out of their own pockets and even asked me to bring in my dog to meet them," she said. "The bank's president even authorized a donation."

The masks have to be ordered through a veterinarian. Delray Beach vet Dr. Nancy Shubeck has agreed to be the intermediary and order the Recovery O2 Masks by SurgiVet through her Seacrest Veterinary Center.

Shubeck, who cares for the Boynton Beach Police Department's K-9 dogs, said there's more to reviving an animal than providing oxygen. So she and her veterinary anesthesia assistant Liliana Mateo are putting together a one-hour, hands-on demonstration to show firefighters how to properly use the masks, and more importantly, what to do when the animal revives.

"The animal will be extremely stressed and might bite a firefighter or hurt itself," she said.

Barnes wants to make sure there's at least one set of masks, for large and small dogs and a cat, for each city and several for the county.

Capt. Don DeLucia, of the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue Department, said the masks will only work on animals that are breathing. If the pet is not breathing, it must first be given pet CPR to restart respiration, then the oxygen.

"Our attitude is that the animal is a loved one," DeLucia said. "And we will treat it as such."

He and his men recently struggled to save a horse that had fallen into a canal in the Heritage Farms area of western Palm Beach County.

"That was a tough one, but we kept its head up, got it out of the water, gave it what oxygen we could with a human mask, and before long the horse was revived and up on its feet," he said.

Donations to the Best Chance for Pets fund can be made to the Palm Beach County Bank, 3717 Boynton Beach Blvd., Boynton Beach, FL 33436. For more information about pet CPR classes, contact the American Red Cross at 561-833-7711 or 800-733-2767.