Pets America, a San Diego-based nonprofit group, has sold thousands in the United States and abroad since 2006, says CEO Rachel Kowalski. Wag'n Enterprises, a pet emergency management company in Herndon, Va., has sold about 3,500 kits to about 1,200 departments in the United States and Canada since 2008. Both groups offer kits that include three different sized masks, the largest of which can fit a newborn foal.
Wag'n's kits for first responders cost $70 each; civilian customers pay $95, with the $25 difference going toward masks for departments that lack funding. Pets America charges $85 or $95 per kit, depending on how many are ordered.
While pet oxygen masks have been used for decades by veterinarians in offices and hospitals, their use in the field by first responders -- firefighters, paramedics and animal rescue teams -- has been building for a decade, experts say.
The cone-shaped masks are designed with enough depth to fit over an animal's nose and mouth, making the delivery of oxygen more effective than it is with masks made for people's flatter faces. The pet masks have a rubber seal that creates a snug fit around the snout. Rescuers have improvised with human masks on pets with mixed results.
Just removing an animal from a smoky fire isn't always enough. As with people, the earlier that oxygen is delivered to combat poisonous carbon monoxide, the better for those animals that wouldn't otherwise survive the trip to the hospital.
"Immediate oxygen therapy can make the difference between life and death in severely affected pets," says Elke Rudloff, an emergency and critical care veterinarian outside Milwaukee.
And for people whose homes and possessions have gone up in flames, seeing their pet saved, sometimes right before their eyes, can be a bright spot in a tragedy.
"Most people are hugging the pet to death because they're so happy," says Ines de Pablo, whose company Wag'n Enterprises sells the masks at-cost to first responders. The feeling, she said, is, "We lost everything else but at least my best friend is now saved."