BETHEL — Townspeople and first responders were educated on pet first aid and CPR, and techniques for dealing with aggressive animals at an adult education class at Telstar Middle/High School on Saturday.

Instructor Bob Silcott, a retired firefighter, has made it his mission to outfit all fire departments and EMT locations with pet oxygen masks. Since 2009, he has supplied over 310 masks to Maine responder facilities. 

Each pet oxygen mask costs about $75, so Silcott holds CPR classes to teach lifesaving methods for humans and pets, and all proceeds are used to buy more masks.

Those in attendance Saturday included firefighters from Woodstock and Oxford, as well as an animal control officer from Oxford, and a couple of local citizens eager to learn lifesaving techniques for their pets. Kip the dog was also in attendance, walking around and making sure everyone was paying attention. 

Silcott’s course, which was about five hours long, covered a wide variety of topics, including how to catch an aggressive animal safely. Silcott demonstrated the usefulness of a fishing net to catch a feisty feline. Once inside the net, a simple twist of the handle will trap the cat.

“They usually stop struggling at that point,” he said. “They realize they’ve been caught. At that point, you can just cover a bag back over the net and transport the animal that way.” If stuck without a net, Silcott said commit to the grab when sneaking up on a cat.

“When you grab them by the scruff, make sure you have a death grip,” he said. “It won’t hurt them, I promise, but if they feel you loosening your grip, they’re going to get away or turn around and give you a bite.”

He said cat bites can cause serious infections. “Out of all the bites you can get, cat bites are the worst.”

The firefighters and animal control officers in the class agreed with Silcott, and told their classmates about cases of cat-scratch fever they had seen, and how cat bites can swell and become easily infected because of the high amounts of bacteria in their mouths. Silcott and an animal control officer in attendance said they had been through the rabies vaccination series three times because of animal bites.

Silcott also went over which materials to have in a pet first aid kit, including a SAM splint, which is a flexible brace made of soft aluminum and foam coating that when made into a splint shape can hold a fracture in place until further medical attention is available. 

He also mentioned trauma shears, a thermometer and peroxide, though he cautioned those present to use it only to induce vomiting, because recent research shows peroxide may make bacteria penetrate even deeper when poured on a wound. He also recommended a stethoscope, and made sure to let his students know that it is not uncommon for an animal’s heart to skip a beat, and that the heart can be located where the animal’s left elbow touches its chest.

Another key point Silcott made was to check the scene upon arrival to make sure it’s safe.

“An impulsive decision can cause another disaster,” he said. “If you see an animal lying in the road that’s been hit by a car, don’t just run out into the road, secure the scene first. Get help.” 

The former firefighter also impressed upon his students to never run into a burning building to rescue a pet.

“It’s really hard to wait, and it seems like forever sometimes, but we want people to know that help is on the way,” he said. “If there’s an animal in a burning building, we’re going to try to get it out.”

Local emergency responders in need of pet oxygen masks for their facilities are encouraged to call Silcott at 207-595-5644.

“The hardest part about getting these masks out there is contacting all the rural departments,” Silcott said.

His mission was inspired by witnessing the “heartbreaking” effects of smoke inhalation on a family pet. Since then, he has been advocating that all family members, even the furry ones, have access to oxygen masks at the scene of a fire.

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