By Amanda Renko

WINDHAM TWP. - Firefighters from the Windham Township Volunteer Fire Company will now be better equipped to save the lives of pets after receiving a pet oxygen mask kit.

Invisible Fence of the Southern Tier, located in Horseheads, N.Y., donated the kit Wednesday to fire company members.

Mark Koehler and Mike Clark of Invisible Fence demonstrated how to use the mask with first responders and firefighters in attendance Wednesday. "We are very proud to be able to provide this lifesaving tool to the department," Koehler said.

The donation was made as part of Invisible Fence's Project Breathe initiative, which hopes to equip every fire station in the United States and Canada with pet oxygen masks. The masks allow firefighters to give oxygen to pets suffering from smoke inhalation after they are rescued from fires.

The kit includes attachments to adapt the department's existing oxygen hose for humans to fit over the muzzle of a dog or cat to resuscitate pets affected by smoke inhalation.

The kit also comes with an instructional video and tips for approaching a frightened animal. Pets typically try to hide from a fire instead of running away from it and are generally scared in a rescue situation, Koehler said. The sight of a firefighter in his gear "can be very imposing for a dog," he said.

According to information from Project Breathe, Invisible Fence has donated over 12,000 pet oxygen masks to fire stations in North America, resulting in the preservation of at least 100 pets' lives thus far.

Asphyxiation is the primary cause of pet deaths as a result of fires, Koehler said.

"We realize that humans are the first priority, but in many cases, pets can be saved if firefighters have the right equipment," Koehler said. "Pets are valued family members, so we want families to know that their pets can be cared for if tragedy strikes."

Windham fire officials requested the kit to be able to help animals, and other area departments have shown interest in the kits. Invisible Fence of the Southern Tier anticipates donating at least 10 pet oxygen mask kits to departments in its service area this year, Koehler said; interested departments may contact Koehler at (607) 796-5062.

For more information on Project Breathe, visit www.invisiblefence.com/O2.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.