Dora is fortunate. She was adopted after her home was destroyed in a house fire in Greenville – a tragedy that claims the lives of anywhere from 40,000 to 150,000 dogs and cats each year, according to the New Holland Volunteer Fire Department.


She is also part of the inspiration behind the Aiken Horse and the Dog and Hound newspapers' decision to donate pet oxygen mask kits to the department. The masks are designed to supply oxygen and air in a more efficient manner to a pet patient. According to firefighter Gary Knoll, the newer technology works for cats, dogs, goats and several other animals.


“We take the oxygen hose, attach it, and take the face mask and place it over the pet's mouth and administer oxygen and air to the pet,” Knoll said. “If the animal isn't breathing, we can take the rebreather from our first responders bag and squeeze the bag to inflate the animal's lungs.”


The kits come with three masks of different sizes to accommodate different pets. Knoll said the procedure stabilizes the patient long enough to transport it to a veterinarian. He added that the procedure is especially important because many homes today have more synthetic materials that let off more dangerous gases than before.


“When those synthetic materials burn, they let off a much higher rate of toxic fumes,” Knoll explained. “Twenty years ago, a living room would have ‘X' amount of toxic gas, and now, it's probably 10 times that amount. Furthermore, 75 percent of all deaths in a fire occur from the smoke. Getting this air and oxygen into pet patients is critical.”


According to the department's numbers, 62 percent of the American population owns a dog or a cat. Based on that number, about 3,100 of the estimated 5,000 residents in New Holland's district have pets making the technology especially beneficial in the area.


Knoll, and Pam Gleason – the editor and publisher of the two newspapers – said the Aiken City, North Augusta and Couchton stations all have the mask kits on their trucks. Each kit costs $75 and Gleason added that residents can donate to the department by helping them purchase more kits.


“One way is to purchase the kits at www.petoxygenmasks.org and have them mailed to the department. Or, residents can join a fellowship program where you put the name of your fire station online and get donations from others to help provide first responders with this life-saving equipment,” Gleason said.


Knoll added, “Any support we can get is great for us. We're a volunteer department and even though we're much needed, we get no funding for these masks. So any type of donation or help we can get is awesome. We always encourage people to sign up for training and volunteer their time and effort.”


Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University. Follow him on Twitter @ DerrekAsberry.


Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct an error.