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Monday, February 18, 2008

Firefighters, animal hospital able to save five burned rescue dogs

It was not a call Dr. John Gustafson was expecting on a Saturday night.

A house was on fire on West Piedmont Street in Keyser and the veterinarian’s help was needed to tend to the seven basset hounds that lived there.

Gustafson was familiar with the residence. It was the home of Charlie Meyer, a member of Brood Basset Rescue of Old Dominion, a regional organization that rescues abused and abandoned basset hounds.

The bassets were Meyer’s adoptees, and Gustafson’s patients.

“They called me to come to the scene,” Gustafson said. “When I got there, they had one of the dogs on a gurney in an ambulance, giving him oxygen.

“He was in the room where the fire started.

“There was another one in the yard being resuscitated.”

The others were milling about the yard, shocked and confused.

“I was worried that they were going to get out of the yard,” Meyer said, noting that most of the dazed dogs — all older adults — had suffered varying degrees of burns on their ears, noses and foot pads.

“The firemen carried them out of the house, and they made sure they were all accounted for,” he said.

“Amazingly, the last one out was Savannah, a retired show girl, who came out without a scratch.”

Not all of Savannah’s housemates were as fortunate, however.

Before he left the scene, Gustafson had to make the decision to put the dog in the ambulance down due to extensive injuries and an already poor medical history.

“Summi was the first one they brought out; he came out alive but barely breathing,” Meyer said. He was 12 years old and blind.

“He’d been a stray we’d found wandering around Huntington.”

With no time for Meyer to grieve, Gustafson quickly took Flash, the dog being resuscitated in the yard, to his animal hospital in Rawlings, and Meyer and some friends followed with the remainder of the canines.

At the hospital, the long painful healing process began.

“We were here at the hospital two-thirds of the night working on them,” Gustafson said.

“We had to put one down toward the middle of the week though; he had suffered severe smoke inhalation.”

Three of the dogs suffered first-, second-, and third-degree burns on their ears and face and two were minimally injured.

“Their hair was singed; it was a pretty intense fire,” Gustafson said.

“They’re all doing pretty well now, though,” he said Friday.

“They’re eating, drinking, wagging their tails and eating their Scooby Snacks.”

Meyer said the fire started when a kerosene space heater caught fire. He counts himself very fortunate that the damage was kept to a minimum.

Both he and Gustafson expressed their admiration for the way the firefighters handled both the situation and the burned bassets.

“I’m from New York,” Meyer said. “I was really surprised who all came out to offer help. There was a lot of outpouring of care and understanding.”

“I was really impressed with the response of the fire companies,” Gustafson said, noting that firefighters form Keyser, McCoole and New Creek all responded to the scene.

“Their concern for the animals and their immediate first aid response was exceptional.

Meyer also had words of gratitude for Gustafson himself.

“He came out there with his entire staff,” he said. “He was really great.”

He also expressed his gratitude for Gustafson’s daughter, Juliana, who had donated the pet resuscitators to the area fire departments as a community service project for her school.

“She was just so proud they were able to use them,” Gustafson said.

Although Meyer is currently unable to live in his house, he started Friday to poke through the rubble and begin the long clean-up process.

“It’s probably going to take the next couple of months to clean it out,” he said.

In the meantime, he has found some temporary homes for the survivors — Eyeore, Piglet, Boo, Cheeseburger and Savannah.

“I’ll keep the ‘burn babies’ with me for a little while, though. They’re going to need some continued care,” he said.

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