I can decontaminate pets exposed to toxic materials

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Last month I had the privilege of participating in an interesting training class through the Petfinder Foundation‘s affiliation with the National Animal Rescue & Sheltering Coalition (NARSC). The class was all about how to decontaminate pets who have been exposed to various types of contaminants, including chemical, radiological, nuclear and biological.

The NARSC team in HAZMAT gear. That’s Toni, second from the right.

Now I am sure you are thinking, just as I did, that it was training I would never have an opportunity to use. Boy, was I wrong! The instructor gave examples of the ways contaminants could be released into the atmosphere, exposing pets — and many were commonplace occurrences such as flooding, oil spills or a crash involving a truck or train carrying radiological or chemical materials.

As you would expect, there are various methods for removing the contaminants based on the type of materials the pet was exposed to. However, the basic idea for any decontamination is to bathe the pet with soap and water. The best types of soap to use are original blue Dawn dish soap or baby shampoo. Our trainer strongly emphasized that you should never use pet shampoos, as they may contain chemicals that can react with what you are trying to remove — and the pet may also be allergic to the ingredients in the shampoo.

After about an hour of classroom training, we finally got to the hands-on portion of the class, which was the best part because I got to work directly with pets! Thanks to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s Pet Visitation Program (Pet VIP), we were able to work with local dogs to get a feel for how a decontamination would work in a real-life situation.

The dogs ranged from an adorable three-legged terrier named Trike to Sammi the beautiful Pit Bull. All were volunteered by their pet parents, who graciously stood by and watched while we bathed their babies. As you can see from the video above, despite having a bunch of strange people dressed in very scary looking outfits giving them baths, the dogs were good sports about the entire process and seemed to enjoy the attention!

The decontamination process that we practiced was simple:

  1. Determine if the pet has been exposed to contaminants. (For this exercise, all the dogs were assumed to be contaminated.)
  2. Take the dog from her pet parent. In a real-life situation, the pet parent would then move to the human decontamination area.
  3. Remove and properly dispose of any collars and leashes, as those are most likely contaminated as well.
  4. Secure the dog with a red disposable leash (red means contaminated and awaiting treatment).
  5. Thoroughly bathe the dog following this process: head to tail, shoulder to forelegs, back to belly, hips to hind legs, undertail and then paws. This is to ensure that you work from front to back and top to bottom, removing all contaminants as you wash.
  6. Completely dry the dog, remove the red leash and replace it with a yellow one. Yellow means the dog has been treated and is awaiting a second contamination test to determine whether everything was removed in the initial bathing process.
  7. Once the dog is dry, escort her to the next testing area. Once the dog has been tested and you are sure that all contaminants have been removed, swap the yellow leash for a green one and reunite her with her family!

Overall, this was an amazing experience that I feel honored to have been a part of, and I can’t wait to see what the next class will be!

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