You’re seated in your rig at a fire standby — fortunately the firefighters seem to have gotten the blaze under control with no casualties to the department members or the family of the devastated home. Suddenly a firefighter runs out of the smoldering building, a tiny bundle wrapped in his arms, shouting “I need help". You jump out and run to meet him and he hands you the bundle; it’s a tiny soot-covered kitten and it’s in respiratory distress. Quick, cover the gurney with an extra sheet to keep it clean, pull out a pediatric O2 mask, and get to work. Minutes later when you hand a little girl her precious fur-baby you feel like a million bucks. And you’ll deal with explaining it to your Chief later…
Many ambulance crews have made this decision to save a life, even if it comes with four legs. Most times there’s no reprimands SO LONG AS YOU WEREN’T NEEDED TO TREAT HUMAN PATIENTS. New York State has issued some recent directives which make this decision for you, especially when it comes to Police K-9s and (most) service/therapy animals. The emergency medical treatment of other household pets is a topic that should be discussed at your ambulance headquarters regarding procedures.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 70–80 million dogs and 74–96 million cats are owned in the United States, making it very likely that a crew could encounter an injured animal. Several EMS agencies are already equipping their rigs with “Animal First Aid” kits and teaching the basics of First Aid and CPR for dogs and cats. After all, what is an EMT or Paramedic if not compassionate?
A 2016 NYS law allows medics to treat and transport police dogs injured in the line of duty. The rising number of police K9 injuries and deaths prompted Governor Andrew Cuomo to pass a new law allowing EMS providers to use their ambulances to transport these dogs to emergency vet care. K-9s help protect their human partners, are used in searches, and are able to sniff out bombs and drugs. First responders are not taught to do invasive procedures on these animals, they are taught procedures that could help with bloat, CPR and even the use of Narcan.
Bureau of EMS Policy Statement, Policy Statement #07-01, Date 07/16/07, Subject Re: Service Animals explains the rights of patients and their service animals during treatment and transport. Service animals include dogs, cats, birds, ponies and more; the crew is allowed to determine the safety and possibility of transporting any service animal with its owner.
And in July of 2019, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation allowing emergency responders to remove distressed animals left unattended in motor vehicles in cases of extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection, which puts the animal in danger of death or serious injury due to exposure.
If your agency is ready to treat four-legged (or other) patients, their members should be instructed in the anatomy of dogs and cats, animal CPR, heart-rates and more. A basic pet-friendly first aid kit should include: gauze, scissors, clotting agent, antiseptic iodine solution, cold packs, hydrogen peroxide and even a first aid book. A resuscitator kit should include several mouth attachments to go over a dog’s face to accommodate resuscitating or aspirating the animal. Harnesses or animal carriers should be used for all animals transported inside the ambulance so that they can be safely secured.