The cat wasn't breathing when firefighters with the Pikesville, Md., Volunteer Fire Company pulled it out of a raging apartment blaze earlier this year. So medics strapped on a special pet-sized oxygen mask, got the kitty inhaling and exhaling again, and then "transported him just like a patient to the 24-hour vet center," fire Capt. Scott Goldstein recalled.
The feline resuscitation was no big deal for the company, nor is it for many others in Maryland. EMS responders in the town of Bel Air saved a cat with CPR and oxygen in February. A fire crew's little oxygen mask helped a dog breathe better after a house fire in Baltimore County last month.
But while such rescues are fairly regular, they are also technically illegal. According to Maryland state law, giving medical care to animals without a veterinary license is punishable by a fine or jail time. Those who dare to do it can also be sued, and the state's Good Samaritan laws only apply to humans. No one has ever been prosecuted or slapped with a lawsuit for this offense.
Even so, Maryland lawmakers this week passed a bill that would make the state the latest to explicitly allow first responders to provide emergency medical aid to animals; it also gives them immunity from being sued for doing so. Ohio passed a similar law last year, and Colorado did in 2014. In all, 22 states now allow emergency crews to provide aid to an animal without fear of prosecution, according to Lisa Radov of Maryland Votes for Animals, which advocated for the legislation.
Radov said the legislation's sponsor, Del. Clarence Lam (D), had read about the Ohio law and figured out that Maryland needed one, too.
"I began asking around to firefighters and different first responders," Radov said. "They didn't realize that what they were doing was against the law."
The Maryland bill is expected to easily win the signature of dog-loving Gov. Larry Hogan (R), because pretty much everyone wants first responders to be able to give mouth-to-snout or otherwise rescue animals. Pet owners "consider their pets as valuable as any of their family members," Goldstein said, and "make more attempts to go back inside and get their pets" than anything else during a fire. Saves are good P.R. for fire departments, not to mention rewarding for the rescuers.
"You get kind of used to the job and used to seeing tragedy every day," said Mark Driscoll, an EMT and instructor with the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute who recently started a company that offers free pet emergency rescue training to first responders. Rescuing animals, he said, "gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling, reminding you why you're doing what you're doing."
But state laws aren't catching up to reality just because of pets caught in fires. Amid a national opioid crisis, police dogs are more often inhaling and ingesting narcotics such as fentanyl, which nearly killed three K9 dogs on a drug raid last year in Broward County, Fla. Those dogs were saved after being rushed to a veterinarian who administered the opioid antidote naloxone, a drug the county sheriff's dog handlers now carry so they can give it to overdosing dogs on the spot, according to NBC.
Concerns that paramedics couldn't legally give naloxone to K9 dogs was one impetus for the Ohio law, according to its sponsor, Rep. Tim Ginter (R).
"There is the possibility that a dog could get a snout full of something and go down," Ginter told the Associated Press. "The best that they could do before this law was to call either a veterinarian to come to the scene or call for transport."
That's a concern among Maryland responders, too, as are other threats to K9s — gunshots, bombs — that might require quick medical aid, said Radov. Working on the legislation, she added, has led her to form Facebook friendships with many firefighters and other emergency workers, whom she characterized as "very passionate" about the issue.
"I think their animal posts are better than all the other animal people," Radov said. "They're such softies."