‘Staying alive, Staying alive:’ Calgary pet owners gain peace of mind with pet first aid

"It’s important … that if something does happen you can potentially help them when they need it."

Wouldn't you like to help Fido in his or her time of need? THE CANADIAN PRESS

CALGARY — Dollar and Ghost are watching with great interest as their owners bounce along to “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Dollar, or Dolly as she is called by her owner, even gets up close and personal. The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever licks the face of her human mom while Sharon Manly is learning mouth−to−snout resuscitation and CPR on a dog mannequin.

“One, two. You’re helping, aren’t you?” laughs Manly, a dog groomer who rescued Dolly from Mexico eight years ago.

Manly is one of seven students one day recently at the Walks ‘N’ Wags pet first−aid course taught by Sarah Macknak, owner of Paw Responder in Calgary.

And why “Staying Alive?”

It was suggested, along with children’s song “Baby Shark,” by students who were asking how fast to do CPR.

“You’re giving two breaths through the nose after 30 compressions, OK? So two to 30 … and reassess every couple of minutes,” instructs Macknak.

“Uh, uh, uh, uh. Staying alive.” The students are counting aloud with each beat.

“The other important thing here is to check for a pulse every couple of minutes,” says Macknak.

First−aid courses for pets have been around for the last 15 years and are popular at the Calgary Humane Society where the class is being held.

“Our pet first aid is mostly geared towards dogs, but you can do it for cats and rabbits and other species as well,” explains Cheryl Grant, the humane society’s behaviour outreach co−ordinator.

“Obviously our pets cannot communicate with us properly. They don’t speak with us so we need to really know what they are communicating.”

The intensive one−day course includes what to do if your pet stops breathing, its heart stops or even if Fido or Miss Kitty end up bleeding or impaled on a branch.

“First you must always consider your safety. If you get hurt, you’re no good to help the animal … Restrain the animal with wraps and blankets,” says Macknak.

It’s important to check for anything that may be stopping the pet from breathing.

“The next thing you would want to try to do is open the animals mouth. You try to scoop it out with your fingers.”


If mouth−to−snout doesn’t work, there’s another way to jar anything loose.

“For smaller animals you can hold them upside down, holding the thighs just above the knee. Swing them back and forth to help the item dislodge … An abdominal press can be done on the larger animals to help dislodge,” Macknak says.

She uses stuffed animals to demonstrate the best way to bandage a tail wound, a puncture or putting on a splint.

There are challenges.

“What happens with tails? They move. They wag. It’s a little bit hard to stop the bleeding of a wagging tail, so you want to secure it to the leg.”

Despite having a difficult time with a moving target, Manly is glad she brought Dolly to practise on.

“I work with animals every day, so it’s important to have a live dummy. You really need to practise on something moving,” she says.  

Valli Fraser−Celin, who’s using her dog Ghost as a practice animal, says she and her partner hike a lot and want to be prepared in case something bad happens.

“Everyone should have a basic knowledge of how to help their pet in a moment of crisis. I think this is a really good class to take just to have that baseline knowledge,” she says.

“It’s important … that if something does happen you can potentially help them when they need it.”

The initial bandaging efforts on Ghost, a Catahoula leopard dog, are a little less than perfect, but Fraser−Celin promises to keep working on it at home.

“I’m going to bandage all of him at the same time, like the head, the feet. I’m going to splint him,” she laughs.

“He’s pretty chill so I think he’ll be OK with me practising on him.”

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