On Vancouver Island, Kate Heron listens for the thump of birds crashing into her windowpane. When it happens, she rushes outside, picks up the fallen creature and puffs on its beak. Heron’s self-taught brand of artificial respiration saves 95 per cent of the birds that hit her window, she says. “It really just knocks the wind out of them.” Saving their lives is “the easiest darn thing to do.”
Heron first learned of using artificial respiration on birds 30 years ago when she worked at the TD Centre in Toronto. “A custodian there would go around in the mornings and pick up the birds that had hit the building. He found if he could puff, ever so gently, into their beaks, it would save them.”
“I’ve done it for years,” says Heron. “I’ve saved an owl, waxwings—an eagle hit our window one day a couple years ago. If they don’t break a neck, all they need is to be kept warm, to keep them from falling into shock, and to get their wind back. I blow on their face and that evidently causes enough pressure. I usually span out their wings to make sure everything is functioning. You can usually get them in order in 10 minutes.” In one stubborn case, “I turned the oven on,” she says. “I held my hands close inside the oven. I worked on him for half an hour and he was fine.”
Watch out for owls, though, she cautions. One she saved grasped her finger and “jabbed me until I was bleeding. His talons are like upholstery needles, long and curved and exceedingly sharp. I wanted to shake him off but I didn’t want to damage him.”
In Vancouver, Heather Ferguson teaches first aid for animals in a two-day course called Pet First Aid that is run by St. John Ambulance. In theory, Ferguson knew how to Heimlich a dog to save it from choking, but it wasn’t until her own dog, Jake, intercepted a flying burnt hamburger bun that she had to use the technique in real life. “He fell over on his side. I was on him right away but I couldn’t get it with my fingers. It was just this wadded mass out of reach of my fingertips.”
The dog’s body, she remembers, “was jerking and attempting to breathe. I pulled his legs back and got my fist in there and did a half-dozen abdominal thrusts, and the food shot out of his mouth. He just lay there for a couple of moments, gasping for air.”
When he was on his feet, “he devoured the bun he spat out. What a jerk,” laughs Ferguson. Yet the saga wasn’t over. “Any time you do abdominal thrusts, you should get it checked out [at the vet],” she says. “What we worry about with abdominal thrusts is damaging internal organs.”
Ferguson grabbed her car keys to drive Jake to the vet but when she got back to him he had collapsed. “His gums are going from bright pink to gray. Now I’m thinking I’ve ruptured his liver. I throw him in the van and scream to the vet.” When she got there, it was discovered that Jake had “a belly full of blood. I’m thinking, okay, I’ve killed my dog now. Long story short, his liver didn’t rupture. He had a tumour in his liver that ruptured.” A surgery removed the tumour and Jake survived. Ferguson was told by the vet, “Basically, you saved him twice.” At the vet’s office, “they had never seen anybody successfully resuscitate a dog with abdominal thrusts.”
On a recent Tuesday evening in Courtenay, B.C., pet first aid instructor Claudia Naaykens demonstrates to a class how to “milk” a stuck tennis ball from inside a dog’s throat. Swallowed tennis balls are a common, life-threatening hazard, she says. She works on a stuffed toy dog, showing students how to “feel the ball from the outside on the neck. Put your fingers under the ball and try to milk it up.”
New Yorker Dee Kistner-Kaufman tells Maclean’s she was horrified when her German shepherd swallowed a tennis ball. She was talking on the phone, tossing the ball to the dog. “I had tossed it to him a zillion times at that point. But it doesn’t happen all the time. It happens once in 10,000 times.”
She acted on instinct: “I’m trying to get it out but it’s slippery and I can’t grab it and it just seems to go down further. I thought, ‘I’ve lost him. He’s going to die in my arms.’ Finally, I threw him on the couch and held him down. You could feel this tremendous thing in his throat on the outside. I squeezed gently on the underside of the ball and slowly worked it back up the tube of his throat.”
A vet later told her, “You don’t know how many golden retrievers I see with a ball in their throat. But they’re always dead on arrival.”
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