First responders save your pets lives, even though technically illegal in Wisconsin

NOW: First responders save your pets lives, even though technically illegal in Wisconsin

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- "It's in our nature to try to help people and I think a lot of us are animal lovers," said Kira Benkert.

Benkert is a Waukesha firefighter and has rescued a few animals from burning home, but she says September 24th was the first time she'd rendered care to an animal.

"They were a little lifeless ... we put them on oxygen right away and kind of cleaned them off, trying to keep them warm," said Benkert.

Years ago, someone donated oxygen masks made to specially fit animal snouts. That night, Benkert used them for the first time. In all, the Waukesha Fire Department saved four cats, a dog and a parrot from the home.

"It was during a Packers game. Second half and I started to smell an electrical fire," said Jared Mickler.

Mickler had already gotten his other dogs out of the home safely before the fire department arrived. But 9-year-old miniature-pinscher-mix, Mizu, was left inside.

"I called for her and could hear her crying. So I tried to go in. I tried twice and I just couldn't do it," said Mickler.

The flames and smoke were too heavy. He tried going through another entrance to get Mizu when the fire department showed up. They brought out Mizu out safely. On scene, they gave her an oxygen mask. The vet cared for her burnt paws and a cough from the smoke.

Benkert cared for Mickler's four cats -- bringing them from nearly lifeless to breathing on their own.

Neither of them knew those actions are technically illegal in Wisconsin.

"I would want someone to save my pet so we did what we thought would be right for them," said Benkert.

The state's veterinarian practice act says only vets are licensed to give aid to animals.

Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine and Kenosha's fire departments all have specialized equipment to care for animals. The departments never received any special training on working with animals or the special-sized masks, but operate similar devices on humans.

None of the departments have a written protocol for saving animals, but they all prioritize human life first, then pets and animals. Their firefighters do render aid to pets when they can, despite and legal risk.

Only 22 out of 50 states allow first responders to care for animals without fear.

"All but two of those states provide the exception for emergency aid to everyone, not just first responders," said Lisa Radov with Maryland Votes for Animals, Inc. Radov helped pass this law in Maryland.

Here are the 22 states where first responders can provide emergency care legally:

Alabama (Al. Code § 34-29-77(8)), Colorado (Co. Rev. Stat. § 12-64-104 (3)), Georgia (Ga. Code § 43-50-80), Hawaii (Hi. Rev. Stat § 471-2), Idaho (Id. Code §54-2104), Illinois (225 ILCS § 115/4 (12)), Kansas (Ks. Code §47-817(b)), Kentucky (Ky. Rev. Stat §321.200 (1)(a)), Massachusetts (Ma. Gen. Laws § 58(4)), Minnesota (Mn. Stat. §156.12), Mississippi (Ms. Code § 73-39-61), Missouri(Mo. Rev. Stat. §340.216 (1)), Nevada (Nv. Rev. Stat. §638.015), New Jersey (Nj. Rev. Stat. §45:16-8.1 (5)), New York (Ny. Educ. L § 6705 (2)), Ohio (Oh. Rev. Code §4741.20(I)), Rhode Island (Ri. Gen. Laws § 5-25-7(b)(4)), Texas (Tx. Occ. Code § 801.004 (8)), Utah (Ut. Code § 58-28-307(9)), Washington (Rev. Code. Wa. § 18.92.060 (8)), West Virginia (Wv. Code § 30-10-17(d), Wyoming(Wy. Stat. § 33-30-203(a)(x))

Colorado, Maryland, and Ohio have all recently passed laws to allow first responders to treat pets. Wisconsin is trying to join.

Senate Bill 435 and Assembly Bill 522 will afford civil and criminal immunity to first responders give care to animals on an emergency call. It also protects them if they don't aid animals.

Both bills are in committee, awaiting a hearing. SB 435 has been assigned to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety. AB 522 has been assigned to the Committee on Health.

To give your thoughts on the bills you can contact your local lawmaker or the committee chairs:

Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety

Senator Van H. Wanggaard

Senate District 21 (R - Racine)

(608) 266-1832

[email protected]

1246 Blaine Avenue,

Racine, WI 53405

Assembly Committee on Health

Representative Joe Sanfelippo

Assembly District 15 (R - New Berlin)

(608) 266-0620

[email protected]

20770 W. Coffee Rd.

New Berlin, WI 53146


It's important to note, you should not call 911 if you have a pet emergency... the vet should still be your first call. The bill explains that first responders can only treat animals if they encounter them on an emergency or call for service involving humans.

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