Saving animals’ lives

Daniel Pina, an animal control officer with the Morgan Hill

Morgan Hill resident Terry Moriyama is on a mission to equip all
of California’s firefighters and animal control officers with the
tools to save dogs and cats that might be threatened by fires or
oxygen deprivation.
Morgan Hill resident Terry Moriyama is on a mission to equip all of California’s firefighters and animal control officers with the tools to save dogs and cats that might be threatened by fires or oxygen deprivation.

She started locally this year, having donated 15 kits containing oxygen masks specially fitted for house pets, that connect to either an oxygen tank or a manually operated resuscitation bag.

When operated correctly, the masks can stabilize a pet that has suffered smoke inhalation, heart problems or other condition resulting in a lack of oxygen. It is estimated that at least 40,000 animals die in structure fires every year, Moriyama said.

“First responders can feel helpless when confronted with an animal victim,” Moriyama said. “They want to help, but often lack the proper equipment to do so, or the funds to acquire it.”

Earlier this month, her nonprofit organization, Air For Paws, donated four of the kits to Santa Clara County’s animal control department, and gave a demonstration of the device and pet first-aid to emergency personnel at the Morgan Hill Police Department.

With healthy pets Gizmo, a Shih Tzu, and Harvey, a Golden Retriever, serving as loyal models, Moriyama and veterinarian Michelle Griffin showed how the masks fit, and instructed the officers and firefighters on pet CPR and checking for pet pulses.

“If you’re dealing with a choking animal, you can do the Heimlich maneuver,” said Griffin, a vet at South County Animal Hospital. “It works the same on animals as it does on humans.”

The kits, which fit in a small duffel bag, vary in contents depending on the needs of the recipient agency. Most of them contain two masks – a small one and a larger one for use on different sizes of animals – two resuscitation bags, instructions, leashes, towels, and emergency advice cards to distribute to homeowners. Moriyama explained that the smaller masks can even be used on hamsters or guinea pigs.

South County firefighters, county animal control officers, and Morgan Hill officers attended the demonstration. Earlier this year, Moriyama donated 10 Air For Paws kits to the South County department.

Morgan Hill animal control officer Daniel Pina is called to most structure fires in the city in case animals that make it out of burning homes are in need of treatment. At one such fire – at a townhome complex at Del Monte and Wright avenues in January – Pina said he used a mask similar to those offered by Air For Paws.

He used the mask on one of several cats that firefighters rescued from the blaze. The cat he treated had inhaled smoke from the fire, and was “in and out of consciousness” before Pina used the mask, which was connected to a resuscitation bag.

“It worked perfectly. He was starting to come out of it when I used the mask,” Pina said. He then transported the feline to a local vet, and the animal was back in its owner’s hands later the same day.

The pet masks are also ideal for the frequent incidents of dogs locked inside vehicles with closed windows that Pina responds to. Such incidents result in a gradual loss of oxygen for the animal, and Pina said he often has to rush thus victimized pets to the vet.

With the masks and oxygen tanks that Pina now carries, he is better equipped to treat the animals on site, he said.

A full-time real estate agent with Eagle Properties, Moriyama started the Air For Paws effort on her own, paying for all the expenses out of her pocket. After gaining some assistance through donations, about a year ago she decided to form a nonprofit organization devoted solely to distributing the air mask kits.

In addition to soliciting donations and working to gain publicity for the effort, Moriyama also donates an air mask kit to an emergency response agency each time she closes the sale of a property.

She was inspired to embark on her efforts when she was mourning the loss of two of her own dogs – one to cancer and one to “broken heart” stress shortly afterwards.

“I was just looking for a way to give back on their behalf,” Moriyama said.

She brought Griffin on board because the masks can only be purchased by a licensed veterinarian, and the vet was eager to help.

“It’s a good cause, and it’s something I can do,” Griffin said.

More information about Air For Paws, including how to make donations, can be found at

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