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Monday, December 26, 2005

Mouth-to-snout resuscitation saves dog's Christmas Day

By: Zev Singer and Laura Payton, The Ottawa Citizen

It isn't every day a firefighter is called upon to give mouth-to-snout resuscitation, but when saving lives is your job, you do what you have to do.

Yesterday, while most people were preparing for a family Christmas dinner, firefighter John McGovern and his lieutenant, Ian MacKinnon, were on duty. They and their crew were called to Ramsey Crescent, near Pinecrest and the Queensway.

Their pumper was the second to get there, at about 4:30 p.m. It was a fire in the living room.

It soon became clear there were no people in the house. The family was away. But moments later the firefighters realized there was a life to try to save.

One of the firefighters already at the scene, Don Church, had been inside the house, conducting a search. When he emerged, he carried in his arms a large dog, a German shepherd-Labrador cross. He'd found it in the basement, chained up, showing no signs of life.

When he got it outside, he gave the dog to Mr. McGovern and Lieut. MacKinnon.

"It was VSA, basically, that dog," Mr. McGovern said, using the acronym for "vital signs absent."

It wasn't a human being, and without a doubt, over the world and even in the city of Ottawa, there were bigger emergencies at that moment.

But it was life, the life of a poor animal that had nowhere to run when the smoke filled the house, and they were going to do their best to save it.

Mr. McGovern put it down in the snow and pumped on its chest, while Lieut. MacKinnon cupped his hands over the dogs mouth and blew in air.

A dog has a heart and lungs, just the same as a person, and CPR is effective, they said.

"Works the same way," Lieut. MacKinnon said.

After a few moments, the dog began to breathe a bit and Mr. McGovern asked his lieutenant if he could get the oxygen cylinders used for people. Since there were no human patients needing them, Lieut. MacKinnon said yes.

Mr. McGovern put the tube into the dog's mouth and held the mouth closed.

Then he petted the dog, trying to encourage it, and spoke.

"I heard some kids saying his name was Rocco. So I just said 'Come on, Rocco. Come back, come to, everything's going to be OK.'"

Mr. McGovern put his jacket over the dog. He put his gloves under its head. He got a blanket.

"I guess we were with that dog for 20 minutes, 25 minutes," he said. It was groggy, but it revived. "It did that in my arms," said Mr. McGovern, who has four dogs of his own at home.

Neighbour Justin Shaver, 13, was there and tried to help to comfort the dog after the firefighters revived it. "He just kept looking at me, licking my fingers, and then my hand smelled like smoke," he said.

The dog is staying at the Humane Society overnight and will be reunited with its owners when they return to Ottawa.

Damage is estimated at $60,000. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

The owners could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Church said he was very happy the story turned out as it did.

"It was a happy ending for a change," he said.

Lieut. MacKinnon, who said he grew up on a farm and has performed mouth-to-mouth on animals in danger before this, said it did make him feel good to be part of the team effort that saved the dog, especially on Christmas. But ultimately, he said, it's regular business.

"We're firefighters and that's what we do," he said.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005


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