Pet oxygen masks now part of Mineral fire response gear

Local veterinarian Dr. Richard Keller of Wiley Ford Animal Clinic recently donated pet oxygen masks to several local fire departments. Pictured, front from left, are Isabella Long and Carletta Sandman, vet techs at the clinic. Back row, from left, are Robbie Pollock, Ridgeley Volunteer Fire Department; Elmer Keller, vet tech; Dr. Richard Keller; Brenda Long, Short Gap Volunteer Fire Department; Kim Hershberger, Fort Ashby Volunteer Fire Company; Todd Ross, Wiley Ford Volunteer Fire Department; and Sarah Houdersheldt, a receptionist at the clinic. Patterson Creek Volunteer Fire Department will also receive a pet oxygen mask.

WILEY FORD, W.Va. — Ridgeley Volunteer Fire Department President Robert Pollock attended a Frankfort High School football game earlier this year when he asked fellow fan and veterinarian Dr. Richard Keller about the cost of a pet rescue device.

Before long, Keller — who operates Wiley Ford Animal Clinic along with his veterinarian technician dad Elmer — replied to Pollock’s inquiry in an unexpected gesture of generosity and support of the several companies in the northern Mineral County fire service community.

“He told me he was working on something,” Pollock said, “but I never expected what he did. He and the clinic purchased pet rescue oxygen recovery masks and donated one to several fire departments in the county.”

Pollock recalled a couple of fire calls in recent years in which oxygen was administered to ailing cats and dogs who were overcome by smoke at a fire scene. He also remembered a mutual aid response to a fire on Polk Street in Cumberland that occurred several years ago.

“I was on a call in Cumberland a few years ago when we used an infant resuscitator to revive a pet,” recalled Pollock, who was thinking the fire department could consider purchasing pet oxygen masks.

But now, pet rescue masks and resuscitation bags are standard equipment of the volunteer fire departments at Wiley Ford, Ridgeley, Short Gap, Patterson Creek and Fort Ashby — thanks to the Kellers and the Wiley Ford Animal Clinic.

“We wanted to give back to the community,” said Dr. Keller, a Frankfort High graduate who earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree at the University of Georgia in 1999.

“If you can save one pet, it’s worth it,” Keller said. “And, if we can help our firefighters in any way, we want to do that. They are always giving of themselves.”

When a cat or dog escapes a smoke-filled house, their survival depends on several factors — the condition of the animal at the time of the incident, how much smoke the animal inhaled and how much damage has resulted to the animal’s organs, Keller said.

Restoring breathing is the priority.

“It’s very important to give them oxygen at the scene. This is the animal’s first line of defense — to give them oxygen and to make sure they are breathing the way they need to,” said Elmer Keller, who worked for many years at the Potomac Animal Hospital on Winchester Road in LaVale with his son before they opened the Wiley Ford clinic a few years ago.

“We’re like a family here,” Dr. Keller said of the staff of the clinic located at 12 Maple St. along state Route 28 in Wiley Ford.

“Our pets are part of our family and each of them has a place in our heart,” he said. “Our philosophy here is not only to help the pet but to also help the family.”

Dr. Keller said he hopes that the idea of providing pet rescue masks to fire companies is one that will spread to other communities.

“They are needed in every community,” he said.

Elmer Keller said the goal in providing pet rescue masks is simple. 

“We just hope to make everybody’s life a little easier,” Elmer, a U.S. Navy veteran and avid Fort Hill High School football fan, said. “If we can save one pet’s life and save a family the grief of loss of a pet, it’s worth it.”

Pollock said he and his fellow firefighters are grateful for the generosity of the Wiley Ford Animal Clinic in providing the pet oxygen recovery masks and resuscitation bags.

“Our pets are special to us. They are part of our family and we really appreciate the support and these devices that Dr. Keller and the animal clinic has provided to us.” 

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