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In emergency, Fido to get 'miracle' in West Mifflin

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 3:53 p.m.
Dog trainer Becky Urbanic, 24, of Mount Washington, shows how to use a pet oxygen mask during a demonstration at Skyview Volunteer Fire Company in West Mifflin on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Mask distributor Invisible Fence Brand has given away over 10,000 masks to fire companies throughout the US and Canada through their Project Breathe program. The masks come in small, medium, and large so that they can fit many different kinds of pets who may need oxygen in an emergency. Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review

Joe and Rita Haas thought their four Persian cats would succumb to smoke inhalation when their Westmoreland County home caught fire last February.

A pet oxygen mask kit donated to the Bradenville Fire Department helped revive them.

“It was a miracle,” said Rita Haas. “They wouldn't have survived.”

Firefighters at Skyview Volunteer Fire Co. West Mifflin 4 received a similar gift on Thursday.

“A lot of people have pets, and when you go in and find one of them, it's hard,” said Skyview Capt. Jeffrey Youkers. “We've seen residents run back into burning homes to save a pet. It's understandable, but extremely dangerous.”

The masks, donated by Invisible Fence of Western Pennsylvania, could save some pets' life, he said.

“These masks are truly a blessing for West Mifflin,” Youkers said.

Most pets in fires succumb to smoke inhalation, usually in less than 20 minutes, experts said.

Invisible Fence Brand formed Project Breathe with the goal of equipping every fire station in America and Canada with pet oxygen masks for use on animals suffering from smoke inhalation. The kits cost about $60 each and include three masks of different sizes, the company said.

Invisible Fence has donated 348 pet oxygen mask kits in Pennsylvania and more than 10,000 across the U.S. and Canada. The masks have saved more than 80 pets, including the Haas' four cats, said the company, which makes products that keep pets confined to yards and homes.

The number of pets that die in fires is not an official statistic kept by the U.S. Fire Administration, but industry websites and other sources put the number at as many as 150,000 annually.

“When we realized there wasn't a track of how many (pets) were lost, and we're in the business of keeping pets safe, we thought this was a good fit,” said Christina Szmurlo, outreach manager at Invisible Fence.

Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or csmith@tribweb.com.

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