Oxygen masks for pets? Oak Park has them

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The Oak Park Fire Department, which prides itself on being well prepared for fire emergencies, recently became even better prepared. The department now has the capability of treating canine and feline victims of smoke inhalation with their acquisition of three pet-sized emergency breathing apparati.

"Pets are at risk of injury and death from smoke inhalation just as people are," said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis. "But human oxygen masks don't fit properly on animals."

Puknaitis, who admits that he hadn't really given the issue much thought, said that several Oak Park residents contacted his department inquiring about the availability of such oxygen masks. Finding them proved surprisingly easy, as well as inexpensive.

"It was low cost and something that we could implement fairly quickly," he said.

The fire department spent $75 a piece on three kits?#34;each of which contains three masks-

one for cats, one for small dogs and one for larger dog- from All For Doggies, a Chicago pet boarder that provides grooming, training and other pet comfort services. All for Doggies is part of the national Best Friends Pet Care chain, which recently launched a national campaign called Cause for Paws. The program helps underwrite the purchase of dog and cat ventilators under a matching grant program. So far the program has helped over a thousand fire departments purchase pet ventilators.

"So far, we've donated more than 200 sets of masks to fire departments in the Chicago area," said Best Friends spokesperson Debra Bennetts.

Bennetts said that the idea came about after one pooch died after a house fire in New Jersey a while back, primarily because no dog appropriate sized respirator was available.

"Someone said, 'Vets have oxygen masks for pets, why shouldn't fire departments,'" said Bennetts.

The general public apparently agreed, as over $18,000 has been donated by outside groups to help with the program. Bennetts said that anyone interested in making a contribution locally to the program can make a donation through All for Doggies, 1760 N. Kilbourn Ave., or Windy City K-9 Club, 1628 North Elston Ave., both in Chicago.

Oak Park's three kits will be carried in the command vehicle, which responds to all Oak Park emergencies, said Puknaitis.

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