Paws Up for Pets: Girl helps firefighters get oxygen masks for pets

By Arden Moore

You’re never too young to make a difference. Just ask 12-year-old Monica Plumb of Powhatan, Va. After reading in her local newspaper about firefighters using a pet oxygen mask to save the life of a dog in a house fire two years ago, the then-10-year-old did some research and was dismayed to discover that most fire departments across the country lack pet oxygen masks.

With the help of her parents, Monica created the website and started to raise money to buy pet oxygen masks for fire stations. Thanks to her efforts, more than 320 fire stations from Maine to Alaska — plus some in Canada — now carry these specially
designed oxygen masks, including three departments in Florida.

“I am an animal lover and care a whole lot about all animals,” declares Monica. “At the time, I was too young to be able to volunteer at my local animal shelter. I wanted to do something to help animals and that’s when I realized I could raise money and awareness about pet oxygen masks.”

Her proud father, William, adds, “Monica surprised my wife, Wendy, and me by her determination. We thought she was going to just do this locally for about a
month and stop, but she told us she wanted to do more to help pets all over the
country. We’re happy to help her.”

I called several fire departments in Palm Beach County to see if their trucks were equipped with pet oxygen masks. Kevin Green, a spokesman for the West Palm Beach Fire Department said, “I’ve heard about the pet oxygen masks, but we donot have them. I wish we did.” Same answer from the Lantana Fire Department.

However, Steve Lewis, spokesman for the Boynton Beach Fire Department, confirmed that they have pet oxygen masks on their trucks, thanks to a fundraiser organized by the Boca Raton Dog Club.

“We’re on a mission to help animals,” says Diane Wagner, president of the Boca Raton Dog Club. “We want our county prepared and we believe strongly that no one — and no pet — should die from smoke inhalation.”

Adds Lewis, “Pets are very much part of families. A couple years ago, we had a house fire that had a cat stuck inside a closed room. Luckily, the fire was contained, but the cat was unconscious. We were able to provide that cat oxygen using a pet mask. The cat was revived, taken to a local veterinary clinic and made a complete recovery.”

Pets, especially cats, are often more vulnerable to smoke inhalation in house fires because they hide. In addition, human oxygen masks don’t fit properly on their faces. Originally developed for use by veterinarians, this cone-shaped, plastic pet mask forms a seal around an animal’s muzzle to allow firefighters to deliver the right amount of oxygen.

The mask also protects firefighters from an injured pet who may try to bite out of fear.

Dave Bailey, battalion chief of the Chesterfield Fire Department in Chesterfield, Va., has been a firefighter for 32 years. His department was among the first to receive pet oxygen masks thanks to the efforts of Monica Plumb.

“We responded to a house fire last year on Christmas Day and were able to revive a large Labrador from one of the pet oxygen masks,” says Bailey. “There are a lot of deadly toxins present during a structure fire and having the right oxygen mask for family pets is crucial to saving their lives.”

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that nearly 100,000 animals die each year in fires, mostly due to inhaling poisonous gases. Earlier this year, a cat suffering from smoke inhalation after an apartment fire in Winnipeg, Canada, was revived after receiving a dose of pure oxygen from one of Monica’s donated pet masks. In Bonner Springs, Kan., a cat was rescued from a house fire and resuscitated with one of the pet masks donated to the fire department.

Each pet oxygen mask kit costs about $70 and includes three sizes. Each set can help revive cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs and even birds.

Monica’s future goals include becoming a veterinarian, but she is quickly picking up skills in marketing and sales. If you would like to make a donation and/or become a sponsor for a specific fire station, please contact Monica at

As Monica says, “Every penny counts! I hope to provide pet oxygen masks to every fire station that needs them.”

Monica’s efforts have earned her the 2009 ASPCA “Tommy Monahan” Kid of the Year Award and 2009 United Animal Nations’ Animal Choice Award.

Not bad for a kid who is still a year away from becoming a teenager.

Tune in to learn more

Hear more from Monica Plumb as well as fire safety tips from Battalion Chief Dave Bailey by tuning into to Arden Moore’s “Oh Behave” show on Pet Life Radio
(, Episode 119. Click on the “Episode Info” link to see
firefighters using a pet oxygen mask to revive a dog rescued from a house fire.

Arden Moore, Founder of Four Legged, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional speaker. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats
and one overworked vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life and learn more by visiting

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