By Mike Hodgson:

Santa Barbara County firefighters will soon be better prepared to deal with injured pets they encounter after they receive training in a series of workshops that started Monday in Orcutt.


First responders with the County Fire Department will receive pet emergency training from Advanced Veterinary Specialists and dog trainer Brian Glen in a dozen free workshops covering 16 fire stations, said Isabelle Gullo, co-founder and executive director of C.A.R.E.4Paws.


Gullo said one out of four animals that die from life-threatening injuries would survive if just one first-aid technique was applied before the pet reached a veterinary hospital, according to American Animal Hospital Association.


But firefighters, rescue personnel and even paramedics and emergency medical technicians who are usually the first to arrive at a fire, crash or other emergency, are generally not trained to provide medical treatment to pets, she said.


So last November, the nonprofit organization launched Pet Emergency Training, or PET, for First Responders to teach them how to safely care for and treat pets they encounter in emergency situations.


Broad training

In the workshops, firefighters will learn how to recognize animals’ injuries, determine their severity and provide appropriate initial treatment before they can be picked up by officers from the Division of Animal Control.


“When a cat is burned, you can’t tell how badly injured it is until a couple of days later,” Gullo said. “By then, the organs are already shutting down.”


In addition to recognizing injuries and their severity, Dr. Andrea Wells, owner of Advanced Veterinary Specialists and an internal medicine specialist, said firefighters will receive at least an hour of hands-on medical training.

One dog’s animosity toward a mail carrier has led to the suspension of mail delivery for dozens of homes in a northwest Santa Maria neighborhood. The suspension began June 6 after the dog charged at a United States Postal Service carrier who was delivering mail to a neighboring home, according to Postal Service spokeswoman Meiko Patton.

“Immediate care and stabilization can be key to a successful recovery from injury,” Wells said.


The hands-on training will range from animal CPR, wound treatment and handling of broken limbs to how to provide fluids and other critical care to an overheated animal.


“We’re more involved with dogs injured in vehicle accidents than structure fires, so that’s very helpful for me,” said Capt. Cesar Martinez of County Fire Station 26, formerly Station 22, at the corner of Tiffany Park Court and Stillwell Avenue in Orcutt.


Firefighters will get to practice the various techniques with dogs and cats owned by Advanced Veterinary Specialists staff members.


During a visit to Station 26 on Friday, Gullo told Martinez and Capt. Lenny Maniscalco, from Station 30 in Solvang, that many of the procedures can be performed with equipment firefighters already use.


But she noted special pet first-aid kits are being prepared for firefighters to carry on every truck.


“They will have pet CPR masks of different sizes, things like that,” she said.


Most cats and dogs act differently when injured or in distress, so the animal trainer will provide techniques for safely capturing, handling and restraining pets to ensure they receive medical treatment or remove them from a dangerous situation.


Glen also will talk about dog psychology and how to deal with protective or aggressive dogs that can harm a first responder and prevent a pet owner from receiving timely critical care.


“Often we run into cases where [injured] people have got animals,” Maniscalco said. “That would help us understand in body language what [the animals] are feeling.”


Double benefit

Firefighter Sam Dudley, who’s assigned to Station 12 in Goleta, said the pet rescue training is a great opportunity for the department and the public.


“I think we recognize, as firefighters, these furry friends of ours are like part of the family,” he said. “We’re very excited to add another tool to our toolkit to serve the public.”


Dudley noted the training will have a dual benefit.


“Aside from being able to help the public, the department has two canines and we’re getting a third,” he said. “One is a live search dog — it searches for live individuals. One is an arson dog, an accelerant dog, that looks for evidence of arson.


“The new one, for which I will be the handler, is an emotional support canine,” he continued. “That dog will be able to provide emotional support for us as well as statewide.


“The suicide rate in fire departments is the same as — if not slightly higher than — it is in the military right now,” he said. “It’s become a real problem. County Fire understands the importance of having these emotional support dogs.”


Dudley said if one of the department’s three canines should be injured while in the field, firefighters will be able to use what they’ve learned in the workshops to treat the dogs and potentially save their lives.


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