GROTON — First responders in Groton get many calls involving pets but are often limited in the ways they can help animals in distress.
Now, thanks to a donation by a state veterinary group, they have some new tools for reviving furry friends after a fire.
The town has received a set of three pet-sized oxygen masks from the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, giving the Fire Department equipment designed to fit anything from a Chihuahua to a small pony.
Holding up one of the bell-shaped masks, Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait noted it has a rubber gasket where the animal’s snout would go, saying it’s a much better fit than the firefighter masks they previously pressed into service when pets are pulled from fires.
“This is so much better because it seals and it’s going to contain that oxygen right on their snout,” he said. “It may make the difference between reviving a pet or not.”
The association is donating masks to all 351 cities and towns in the commonwealth as part of a statewide effort to get communities thinking about animal safety and emergency planning.
That message has been taken to heart by local veterinarian Susan Horowitz, who is working to add an Animal Emergency Plan to the town’s disaster preparedness program.
Horowitz, who is the Board of Health’s representative on the Local Emergency Planning Committee, said that step is being advocated by both pet welfare and government agencies, after the much-publicized problems caused by abandoned pets in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
“I think Katrina pointed out that there was nothing,” she said. “The mantra now says ‘If you leave, your pets leave.'”
Horowitz attributed that mantra to the Department of Homeland Security, adding the state has provided a template for pet-related preparedness that covers everything from first-responder training to setting up shelters after a major disaster. She identified the latter as a key area of local planning, noting that animals are not allowed at Red Cross shelters.
The dog pound at the transfer station was listed as a likely animal shelter in the event of a major disaster, but Horowitz said such details would need to be hashed-out by the emergency planning committee. She expected work on the plan to begin within the month.
Horowitz didn’t think her proposals for emergency planning would be controversial, indicating most owners would likely appreciate their pets being included within disaster planning.
“This is a whole new positive attitude toward pets,” she said.
In the short term, Horowitz and Bosselait plan to expand on the veterinary association’s gift by acquiring three more sets of animal oxygen masks — enough to supply both the rescue truck and all three fire stations.
Bosselait said two additional sets — valued at $100 apiece — have already been donated by local animal lovers, but they could use a fourth one.
One of the sets was donated by Horowitz, who said that was part of being a veterinarian and giving back to the community. The other was donated by Bob and Ranier Collins, a local couple that loves collies and wanted to help out. Bob Collins, an attorney, said Groton’s a small town he was happy make the gift to.
Bosselait expected the equipment will prove useful, saying there are a lot of animals in Groton, and that pet rescues have been a growing part of what they do. He added that firefighters are learning new skills to meet that challenge, noted that several members of the department recently attended a large-animal rescue class.
Overall, Horowitz said it’s a good thing that more people are thinking about animal safety — giving one more reason why it’s a good idea to remember the pets, when planning for the worst.
“Basically veterinarians are always in tune to the animal component of emergencies,” she said. “There are veterinarians right now helping with the animals in Haiti; it’s in our magazines, our literature, but it hasn’t made the news.”
The Groton Local Emergency Planning Committee meets at 1 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month.