When you think of fires and dogs, you probably think of Dalmatians. In the old days before the fire engine, Dalmatians ran alongside horse-drawn fire wagons. Once on the scene, the dogs distracted and calmed the horses and guarded the wagon and equipment. Nowadays, Dalmatians primarily serve as firehouse mascots.
When you think of fires, you probably don’t think of dogs like Chloe, Malaki, and Brinleigh, but Chloe repeatedly dug her nails into her owner’s arm, Malaki cried and cried outside her owners’ closed bedroom door, and Brinleigh jumped incessantly on her sleeping owner. These dogs saved their owner’s lives by alerting them to house fires.
Sadly, the Live Safe Foundation estimates that 40,000 pets are killed each year by house fires, 1,000 of which are accidentally caused by pets. The American Kennel Club and ADT Security Services launched National Pet Fire Safety Day on July 15, 2009, to help owners prevent their pets from starting fires and develop a fire safety plan that increases their pet’s chance of survival. I hope you’ll consider these common safety tips to protect your pets.
If you live with dogs, I don’t have to tell you they like to stick their noses, paws, tongues, and even tails into potentially dangerous things, such as pots and pans on gas stovetops, barbecue grills, flickering candles, and warm fireplaces. Don’t leave these things unattended, and extinguish all flames inside and outside before leaving the house, even for a moment, or going to sleep.
If you can’t monitor these situations, exclude your pet from the area or confine your pet in another area where he’ll be safe. And what about those nasty exposed electrical cords? Your dog may not intend to bite into an electrical cord, but he might if he’s teething or his favorite chew toy is nearby.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be home when a fire starts and your dog will respond promptly when you tell him to come, so you can both escape. I’ll bet when you went to dog-training classes the trainer gave you examples of how the “come” command could save your dog’s life. And when you make it outside, having your dog trained might prevent him from bolting if he panics. If he does bolt, all those photos you have on your phone of your dog will come in handy to create lost dog flyers.
Maybe you’re one of those owners who takes off his dog’s collar when he’s in the house. Please don’t. If he bolts, his collar with up-to-date contact information, along with a microchip that you’ve registered and kept current, could help you and your dog be reunited. It’s a good idea to provide your microchip registry with the names and contact information of relatives, friends, or neighbors who have agreed in advance to temporarily care for your dog if you are unable to do so.
Of course, the piercing sound of the smoke detector and the smell of smoke may scare your dog and send him scurrying for safety. If your dog has places where he hides when he’s scared, you could waste precious time searching for him. Make sure all family members know where your dog likes to hide.
What if you can’t find your dog and have to leave the house? Open a door that leads to the outside, and once you’ve escaped, call your dog. Hopefully, he’ll hear your voice and come running. Maybe he’s already outside with another family member — that’s another reason why it’s so important for everyone to swiftly gather in a designated meeting spot.
A fire may break out when you or other family members aren’t home. That’s why it’s a good idea for you and your dog to know your neighbors. If you’re comfortable, give your neighbors keys to your house, and be sure they know your dog’s hiding spots.
Of course, a fire may break out when your neighbors aren’t home, either. If you have an alarm monitoring service, let it know that you have dogs and how many. Such services can instantly dispatch rescue personnel to your house if a fire breaks out.
The more you can do to alert rescue personnel that you have a dog or dogs, the better. Put static-cling emergency stickers on windows near all your house doors leading to the outside. Static cling stickers adhere to glass, but can also easily be updated or removed if pets no longer reside in the house. (In the old days, people affixed permanent rescue stickers to their doors. These stickers were difficult to remove and rescue personnel were often hesitant to risk their lives to save a pet who might no longer be in the house or no longer belong to the currently family living in the house.)
Once you and your dog have reached safety, you can care for him if he’s hurt. Your chances of succeeding and avoiding injury to yourself or your dog may be increased if you’ve taken a pet first aid class. Check with rescue personnel about special pet oxygen masks if your dog is having trouble breathing.
Even if the fire is minor and your dog appears normal, have him examined right away by your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital. Smoke inhalation can be fatal or lead to other complications, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
Hopefully, you will never experience a house fire. But if you do, this information may increase your dog’s chance of survival.
Has your dog ever been in a fire? How did you get her out? Was she injured? Tell us your story in the comments.
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About the author: Nancy Peterson is a registered veterinary technician and award-winning writer. She joined The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation’s largest animal protection organization, in 1998 and is currently the Cat Programs Manager. She lives in Maryland with her cats Luna, adopted from a feline rescue; Toby, adopted from an animal shelter; and Jenny, a feral kitten she fostered. Check out the HSUS cat information here.