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Lollypop Farm shows how to save a pet in an emergency

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Cyndy Harnett gives compressions to a CPR mannequin dog at the pet first aid class at Lollypop Farm.

The Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” plays as three adults pump the chests of stuffed-animal Dalmatians to the beat of the 1970s disco hit.

“It’s hard, right?" Humane Society educator Kim Ferris-Church asks the group. “Think about doing this for 15 minutes. It’s a lot of energy you’re using.”

This is a pet CPR and first aid class offered at the local humane society, Lollypop Farm, just in time for the holiday season -- a time when animal experts warn that pet emergencies related to things like decorations, human food, and gatherings can happen.

Ferris-Church leads the small group through CPR, first aid, and Heimlich maneuver techniques on life-sized stuffed animals - a dog and a cat for each student.

Audrey Kramer, a cat behavioral specialist, has been through this before – both during a previous training at Lollypop, where she works, and in a true emergency.

“I did have to help one of my cats that was choking one time,” Kramer said. “It was just after I had taken the first course years ago. It choked on a treat and I did kind of like a Heimlich and it flew out of the cat's mouth and we were fine.”

The Heimlich maneuver that Kramer used was similar to the technique meant for infants. While CPR methods for cats and dogs resemble CPR for humans, Ferris-Church said there are significant differences.

“Typically with humans, we are laying the body on their back and you're doing the compressions in the middle of their chest, but with animals, you're actually laying them on their side.” Ferris-Church said as she demonstrated on a life-sized Dalmatian stuffed animal.

“Then you’re finding where their heart is by moving their leg back and where their elbow meets their torso. That's where their heart is located,” she said. “So, you actually do the compressions on their side. And then you try to get to a hospital as soon as possible.”

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Kim Ferris-Church, Lollypop Farm humane education manager, shows how to find the heart of a pet on a CPR mannequin dog at the pet first aid class.

She stressed that these skills are not a replacement for a vet, but they can rescue an animal in crisis before they arrive at an animal hospital.

It’s something to be prepared for because it can happen in a split-second, Ferris-Church said. The sooner someone reacts, and the more skilled they are at responding, the better the chances are for a positive outcome.

“It could be as simple as your dog is outside in the backyard playing and chewing on a stick, and then all of a sudden choking on it,” Ferris-Church said. “It could be, you know, that you have a senior citizen, and you know, one day they drop down and have a seizure. You know, what are you going to do in that situation?”

The holidays can present other risks – but they can be avoided with preparation and awareness.

The FDA warns that things like poultry bones can break apart into sharp pieces and cause internal injuries. Table scraps full of fatty bits from, say, turkey meat can lead to a life-threatening case of pancreatitis in dogs.

And the American Veterinary Medical Association says things like sparkly tinsel, string lights, and unattended candles can harm curious cats.

However, accidents can happen in any season. Years ago, Kramer was a first responder to another pet emergency close to home.

“It was a neighbor's outside cat that was bitten by their dog,” Kramer explained. “I actually had to stop the bleeding in the ear, and the ears bleed like crazy. So, I had to put pressure on that until we got to the vet's office.”

In that incident, she used her hands and fingers to apply pressure on the ear to stop the bleeding. It was something she never expected she’d be able to do.

“I thought I couldn't handle these situations, but when you're thrown into them, you'd be surprised what you can do,” she said.

Cyndy Harnett, a 4-H volunteer in Yates and Ontario counties, is taking the course to prepare herself in case of an emergency. For more than 20 years, she’s mostly worked with rabbits, and has four house rabbits of her own. She keeps a pet first aid kit on hand, but this is the first time she’s learning life-saving techniques, which would need to be greatly modified for rabbits, which have fragile bones.

“I did have a rabbit break a front leg years ago where it jumped wrong and landed,” Harnett said. “I think if we had done a better job immobilizing the limb on our way to the vet, it might have helped that rabbit.”

Harnett plans to take what she’s learned about pet first aid at Lollypop and pass it on to the children she volunteers with. Many of them have pets themselves.

“I always believe in education, and even though I've been a pet owner for a long time, you just never know when emergencies are going to come up,” Harnett said. “I want to be able to have some training so if something happens, I can think a little more clearly than just absolutely panicking at the last minute.”

The class is offered monthly at Lollypop Farm in Fairport.

No good pet owner wants to see their animal in pain, or imagine the worst-case scenario, but caring for your pet also means being there for them in a crisis.

It’s something Ferris-Church believes can make all the difference.

“Being able to help your animal when they're injured, and getting them to that emergency vet is going to help save their life.”

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Kim Ferris-Church, Lollypop Farm humane education manager, and Nick Lapresi, Lollypop Farm behavior and training manager, work on resuscitating a CPR mannequin cat at the pet first aid class.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.