April is Pet First Aid Awareness month, so who better to interview than Denise Fleck, owner of Sunny-Dog Ink and a true pioneer in pet safety.
Fleck is not the type to sit around and wait for something to happen – she’s a doer, and when her dog, lovingly called the Sunny Dog, ruptured discs in her spine and became immobile, Fleck sprang into action, throwing herself into learning everything she possible could about how to care for her beloved pet.
“It was a helpless feeling, not knowing what to do when she was injured,” she said. “This was a large dog, and we feared lifting or carrying her could actually make the incident worse.”
Fleck says it was fate that stepped in after the Sunny Dog’s injury, because she heard at the same time that classes were starting in pet first aid and CPR.
“I jumped on the bandwagon and trained with Pet Tech,” Fleck said. ”Since then, I have trained with the American Humane Society, the Humane Society of the United States, American Health & Safety, plus a few others. In addition to the book learning, I’ve done animal rescue for a little over 13 years.”
Turning a Passion into a Career
Fleck has always been an animal lover – after all, she has been mom to 11 dogs and one cat, but it wasn’t until 1988 that she realized she could turn her passion for helping animals into a career.
“People had developed some pet first aid and CPR classes, but it was pretty much in 1998 when it started making its breakthrough,” she said.
Fleck says she encountered some naysayers who were grossed out at the thought of putting their mouths on the snout of an animal to save its life, but over the years that has changed.
“When I first started doing it, people were like, ‘What? You’re really going to do that to an animal?’ And now I have people emailing me all the time [saying], ‘I have been looking for a class like this!’”
Fleck says people began to take her seriously because she could back up her training with real-life stories and photos, including one particular five-hour class that she had to stop after the first 10 minutes because someone came in off the street frantically screaming that their dog had been hit by a car.
“I hadn’t even gotten into teaching them how to restrain, or check vitals, or really do anything yet, and we had to jump into action,” she said. “I started rescue breathing and CPR, and then taught the owner what to do. We got the emergency information and sent them on their way, but then we had to go back in and compose ourselves and go through class.”
The first three or four years were a struggle for Fleck to get the word out about pet first aid and CPR. She spent all of her time and energy calling folks and businesses and offering her services to them. While some were responsive, others were not.
“Anything takes time,” she said, “and obviously this is a little bit unusual. Everybody isn’t going to want to go mouth-to-snout on animal, especially if they are not animal lovers.”
However, Fleck already had a successful career as a publicist for Paramount Pictures and applied her skills to her passion, pulling out all the stops to help people understand how important it is to be able to save their pet’s life.
“I just booked an episode of CBS’ ‘The Doctors,’” she said. “They came to me, I wasn’t in search of them. These are human doctors and I’m supposed to have them down on all fours, teaching them dog CPR. It’s neat that a nationwide show really wants to get the word out on how you can help your animals as well.”
How Pet Safety and First Aid Can Save Your Dog’s Life
Most individuals who sign on to be pet parents fully understand the risks that they are taking. They know from the start that the wagging tail and puppy kisses will only last for so long, and they understand that they have complete responsibility for a creature that cannot necessarily communicate when it’s hurt, which is why Fleck became a pet safety expert and why she came up with her own first aid kit for pets.
“When the dog cuts his paw, the cat isn’t breathing, when the dog is choking – you’re going to be home alone, and it’s going to be after veterinarian hours. It’s just Murphy’s law.”
Fleck says people assume that if their vet is only five minutes away, they have plenty of time to get their pet to the doctor for emergency care.
“In the case of an animal that is choking, or not breathing and not getting air, brain cells do start to die in the first two to three minutes,” she said.
She says pet first aid and CPR are important for more reasons than just lessening their pain and suffering – it literally can mean the difference between bringing your vet a dead pet or one that is fighting for its life.
“By doing CPR, you can keep that life-giving blood and oxygen flowing through the body, keeping them alive and the organs viable so that the vet can do what he or she is trained to do.”
According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 25 percent more pets could be saved if just one pet first-aid technique were applied prior to getting veterinary care.
Fleck says, “It’s important to know what to do at the time of the injury because we aren’t generally lucky enough to have a veterinarian velcroed to our hip 24/7.”
What You Can Do
Besides signing up for a dog CPR class, you can also get a first aid kit for your pet. First aid kits can be expensive, but there are a few items that are inexpensive and will be highly beneficial should your dog be injured.
“Sometimes you need to start buying one thing at a time, and that’s totally understandable, but I feel like you should start somewhere.”
Denise recommends the following items:
- Hydrogen Peroxide - You can use 3-percent hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if your dog has digested certain food, chocolate, anti-freeze or poison. According to sunnydogink.com, “you should give your dog 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide per 15 pounds of your dog’s body weight with an eye dropper, syringe or turkey baster by dribbling the liquid onto the back of his tongue or into his cheek pocket until swallowed. Collect the vomit and take it and your pet to the veterinarian ASAP.”
- Diphenhydramine – Better known as Benadryl. This will come in handy if your dog is stung by a bee or has allergies. Vetinfo.com recommends a dosage of “1 mg per 1 pound of your dog’s weight. It should only be given to your dog every eight hours.”
- Diotame – Antacids such as Tums, Pepcide and Pepto Bismol can be used for diarrhea or an upset stomach. According to dogbreedinfo.com, “Pepto Bismol can be given every three to four hours. Give them a half to full teaspoon for every 10 poundsof dog.”
Along with these three important items, Fleck also suggests you have an extra leash in case you need to muzzle or retrain your dog, styptic powder for toenails that are clipped to the quick or torn, and lastly, a digital thermometer. A dog’s temperature should be between 101.5 and102, and that the thermometer goes in the back door (rectally).
For more information about pet CPR, first aid kits or Denise Fleck, visit her website.
PHOTOS: Kara Ogushi