Colo. EMS agency prepares to train for emergency pet treatment
Banner Health Paramedic Services will soon be first in the nation to undergo agency-wide training to treat pets injured in emergency situations
By Joe Moylan
GREELEY, Colo. — Banner Health Paramedic Services will soon be first in the nation to undergo agency-wide training to treat pets injured in emergency situations.
Earlier this month, Banner Health announced it had received seven pet oxygen masks from Invisible Fence of Northern Colorado. The donation was made through the nonprofit's "Project Breathe" program, which was established with the goal of equipping every firehouse in the U.S. and Canada with pet oxygen masks.
Natalie Perry is one of Banner's paramedics behind the initiative to equip Weld County's first responders with pet-specific emergency equipment and training. The effort is known locally as "Project Daphne" after the agency's unofficial mascot.
Daphne is Walt Francis' cocker spaniel. A longtime Greeley resident, Francis began about five years ago walking Daphne to the ambulance bay at North Colorado Medical Center.
Francis, who lives about four blocks south of NCMC, said the first time he walked Daphne to the hospital it was a hot summer day, and he was trying to find some shade. As they approached, an ambulance was leaving the hospital. The two paramedics inside, who Francis declined to identify so not to get them in trouble, pulled over to spend a few minutes talking to Francis and playing with his dog.
"I figured sometimes it's good for those ambulance people to play with a dog for a few minutes after some of the stuff they see," Francis said. "We've been going down there every day since. Sometimes people are there, sometimes not.
"Sometimes there are quite a few people there. She loves to see them, and they love to see her."
Project Daphne was created with a two-prong, pre-veterinary care goal in mind, Perry said. The first focuses on establishing best practices for on scene, emergency care of service animals, such as bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs. There are 14 working K9s in Weld County, with a 15th in training.
"These are highly-trained, sworn peace officers and there was no protocol in place for us to provide them care in an emergency," Perry said. "We wanted to put a protocol in place that would allow us to provide the same level of care to a K9 that we would provide to a human being."
The second goal is to apply those protocols to domesticated dogs and cats rescued from a variety of emergency situations, such as a car crash or a home fire. Until four years ago, it was illegal for first responders to provide care to a domesticated pet under the Colorado Veterinary Practice Act.
In March 2014, Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., signed a bill granting an exception to the Vet Act by allowing first responders to provide voluntary pre-veterinary care to domesticated dogs and cats.
It remains illegal to call 911 for first responders to solely tend to the medical needs of pets. A human life must also be in danger and medical care to people remains the top priority.
"What the law really did was give us protection for things that were already happening," said Eric Woodruff, a Banner Health EMT, noting myriad stories of dogs and cats being saved by first responders. "It gives us the freedom to operate under the scope to give the best care we can without worrying about going to court over it."
By under the scope, Woodruff means that as an EMT he is permitted to provide limited care to a dog or a cat in an emergency situation, such as CPR. Perry, who has more training and experience as a paramedic, can administer medications, start intravenous lines and provide advanced airway management support to dogs and cats similarly to how she does those for humans.
Banner Health hopes to go live with Project Daphne by mid-September after all of its first responders have gone through K9 CPR and First-Aid training. Project Daphne is a Banner Outreach initiative, meaning it's being completely funded by the agency and through donations, Perry said.
Project Breathe provided the first seven kits. Each kit contains three oxygen masks of varying sizes to accommodate different-sized dogs and cats, a leash, and an instruction manual. The masks can be sterilized and re-used.
Francis has agreed to make a cash donation to put all of Banner's first-responders through training, which will make it the first ambulance company in the nation to have agency-wide training in pet CPR and First-Aid. Francis, who also brings his second dog, Simon, to the NCMC ambulance bay for daily visits, said it's the least he can do for the people he considers his friends.
"They've really done a tremendous job helping me re-socialize him (Simon)," Francis said, noting the dog was beaten regularly by its previous owner. "Those ambulance people have really been the best thing for him and I like to help them out anyway I can."
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