Monday, October 18, 2010

Dog injures firefighter in blaze

OK folks, I’ve told you all about this before and I’m here to tell you again — dogs don’t see firefighters as saviors. They don’t realize the firefighter is there to save them and in fact, they may not even recognize that the firefighter is a human.

Dressed in a bulky fire suit — the likes of which a dog has probably never seen before — a firefighter may look more like a monster than a human to a dog.

And this is on top of the dog already being incredibly fearful because its house is burning down — something else the dog doesn’t really understand but is definitely cause for intense fear — and it doesn’t have an escape route. See my earlier post about three pit bulls removed from a fire in Pontiac here.

One more thing to remember about dogs: fear drives aggression. There are different types of aggression and different things that motivate a dog to become aggressive, but fearfulness is probably the most common driving force behind aggression in dogs. Sadly, many fearful dogs who react to fear with aggression (fight rather than flight) are viewed simply as aggressive dogs — no one ever connects the dots as to why they’re becoming aggressive.

So, let’s say you have a perfectly friendly and happy-go-lucky lab who has never displayed fearfulness or aggression in his entire life. Despite his fantastic temperament, he could still attack a firefighter. Think about it — even if you are a calm, even-keeled, generally happy and friendly person all the time, wouldn’t you still be scared if your house was burning down and you couldn’t get out?

Humans understand fires and firefighters, though, so you’d have the knowledge to be grateful if you spotted a firefighter breaking through the door to save to you. Dogs don’t have this understanding. They’re scared and they’re most likely to react with aggression in such an extreme situation.

On Saturday, an Oakland County Sheriff’s deputy was bitten on both hands while rescuing a dog from a burning home in Rochester Hills. He received first aid at the scene, drove himself to a clinic for further treatment and is doing fine. Read the full story here.

It’s another example of why I keep asking you guys, “What do you think your dog would do in a fire?”

Because it would probably do just like that dog did on Saturday and bite its rescuer.

We’re lucky to have a fireman interning with us right now, so I took a few moments to chat with him about the issue.

He said firefighters are generally aware that dogs in need of rescue may be aggressive. Beware of dog signs are helpful indicators for firefighters, as are those little stickers you can buy for your window to let firefighters know a pet is inside the home.

Crating your pets while you’re away can be very helpful for firefighters. Think about it — rather than trying to pull a dog out from its hiding spot under the bed or searching for it in all corners of a smoky, dark house, they can just pick up the crate and carry it out.

A bigger issue for fireman, he said, is one that they face a lot more often than pulling pets out of fires — dealing with dogs at the scene of medical emergencies.

This is another situation where your dog is not going to be him- or herself. Even a great dog can become nervous and anxious when their owner has a medical emergency (they know something is terribly wrong) and then a bunch of strange people in strange suits with strange gear come rushing into their home.

“It’s a safety issue for us,” he told me. “We basically think, every dog is vicious and ask to have the dog put away.”

So before they start giving medical care, they make sure the homeowner has the pet secured in a different room or in its crate. Do them a favor and take care of this before the emergency medical response team arrives — they’ll get to you or your loved one a few seconds earlier and you’ll help them do that all-important job of saving lives.

I asked if he felt his department would be open to pet owners stopping by with their dog and he said he thought his fellow firefighters would be happy to accommodate someone looking to introduce their dog to firefighters.

Call ahead, arrange a time, ask for a hat or coat to be worn and most important, bring some treats for the firefighter to give to your dog! It’ll show your dog that firefighters aren’t so scary and if the day ever comes that your dog needs to be rescued, he’ll be less likely to be aggressive toward the firefighter.

Whatever we can do to make a firefighters’ life easier and less dangerous, we should. They’re the ones with the toughest job of all.

Get a free sticker for your windows from the ASPCA by clicking here.

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