At UF, crash course on emergency care for K-9s

Emergency workers from around the nation learn how to treat their dogs in an emergency.

Dr. Sandy Tou, left, and workshop participant Chris Felski observe Dr. Kirsten Cooke demonstrate one place to take the pulse on a dog during a workshop Sunday on emergency treatment for canines at the University of Florida.

BRIANA BROUGH / The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, August 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, July 31, 2005 at 11:58 p.m.

Kirsten Cooke had the undivided attention of a group of physicians, emergency responders and military personnel as she demonstrated life-and-death medical care many had never seen before.

Then she switched to a high-pitched, sing-song voice and praised her patient.

"You're a good dog! Yes you are!" the clinical assistant professor said, cuddling Peggy Hill, a much-loved coonhound at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Just over a dozen emergency workers came from across the country to take the K-9 Down course over the weekend. It included lectures about treating dogs for burns, poison and smoke exposure, and a hands-on laboratory on emergency care ranging from CPR to anesthesia.

The three dogs who served as patients, all accustomed to veterinary students, seemed unamused - and unalarmed - as students practiced testing their blood pressures with neonatal cuffs around their legs; inserting IVs into their legs; even putting breathing tubes down their throats while pulling their tongues outward to prevent them from choking. In CPR, no one ends up with dog breath. Instead, they use the tubes to safely breathe life into a dog without the risk of catching disease.

To monitor a dog's pulse or heart rate, students learned ultrasound monitors and EKGs can be attached to its paws.

One of the students, Roger Picard, enrolled in the course after he took his K-9 to work 12-hour shifts with him in the rubble of New York City's World Trade Center. As part of FEMA's South Florida Task Force, the two helped recover 10 deceased persons during a weeklong mission after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. And Jessie, the dog, was one of several K-9s to lighten the somber mood, Picard said.

"Everybody's spirits lifted when they saw the dogs. It was taking a toll on the rescuers, but the dogs didn't understand. They were just excited about who was going to play with them that day, and they brought a wonderful sense of hope," he said.

However, the Labrador retriever did become dehydrated and lose weight during the long workdays, and Picard - who often finds it impossible to reach a veterinarian in the midst of the emergency situations he handles - decided to learn for himself how to treat Jessie's emergency needs.

In class on Sunday, he was taught to check her gums for a sticky, tacky feeling and to test whether the skin on her back sticks up when pulled. Both are clear signs of dehydration.

Marc Pajdo, a tactical medic for the U.S. Marshals Service in Fort Bragg, N.C., said he plans to teach the veterinary techniques to special operations paramedics he works with. They often team up with bomb-sniffing dogs and borrow K-9s from municipal police during their missions.

Pajdo said the dogs - with thousands of dollars and hours invested in their training - need to be protected as fellow law enforcement agents. While many tools and techniques used on humans can be used in dogs' medical emergencies, he said, there's important differences that medics need to know.

For example, a dog must lie on its left side during CPR because of the placement of its heart, and it must be on its stomach during placement of a breathing tube.

Another student, Jim Lloyd of the South Carolina Emergency Response Task Force One, noted morphine is less effective in dogs, so they require much higher doses than humans in order for the drug to take effect. And he learned intravenous tubes must be attached to dogs with superglue or skin staples because dog hair won't hold medical tape.

Sheilah Robertson, a professor of anesthesiology and pain management, said it takes years to replace a well-trained K-9, which is why it's important handlers learn basic emergency care techniques for dogs.

"It would be unfortunate to lose them when it could have been prevented," she said, stooping to pet Mein, a chow mix.

She predicted the demand for working dogs "will go up more and more as the world gets crazier. In a lot of jobs for dogs, there is no technology to replace them, and probably there never will be."

She said the K-9 Down course, offered one weekend a year for the past five years, is one of the nation's only hands-on courses for dog handlers and emergency personnel.

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