Would you know what to do if your puppy was bitten by a snake or dislocated its leg? How about if your beloved cat stopped breathing and needed CPR? Could you break up a dog fight if you needed to, or stop a chihuahua from choking?
Turns out not many of us have the answers, which seems slightly at odds for an animal-loving nation.
But St John Ambulance ACT, best known for saving human lives through first aid, is offering a new training course aimed at ensuring we can do the best by our furry, feathered and fluffy friends in times of crisis.
I’ve come along to take part in the first face-to-face session, which is being held at St John’s Pialligo headquarters.
The expansive training room, with a projector screen at the front, has been painstakingly marked out with tape to ensure social distancing can be observed.
In place of the usual first aid mannequin is something best described as a ‘doggequin’, a synthetic replica of a prone pup, tongue lolling appropriately. Known as Caspar, the doggequin is one of only two of its kind in Australia, according to our teacher, Tammara Haines.
On each chair is a pet first aid kit, included in the price of the course. The kit contains an emergency accident blanket, dressings, bandages, antiseptic, gloves, sterile washes, scissors, swabs and a syringe – a pretty good start for dealing with any pet crisis.
It appears that the class swot has already arrived. All blond curls and alert posture, Merlin the standard poodle is sitting patiently at the front of the class as his fellow students slowly traipse in. Merlin is the teacher’s pet – quite literally.
His various duties involve patiently letting Tammara demonstrate on him how to craft a makeshift muzzle from a leash or handy piece of rope, and to remain a beacon of calm while first-timers like Loki the fox terrier rifle through people’s bags looking for snacks.
Roxy the bitser struggles to manage her excitement and Karen the greyhound leaves the room several times for a nervous wee.
It turns out there’s a lot to be aware of when it comes to keeping our pets safe. Tammara, who manages the popular Isabel’s Dog Grooming salon in Phillip by day, runs us through a litany of risks in her multi-page presentation, ranging from tapeworms to toxins (never, ever give an animal paracetamol, she warns us). She talks us through how best to deal with crises should they arise.
“You’ve got to think of dogs like toddlers. They explore with their mouths and noses. They are sentient beings, and they can get hurt,” says Tammara, who is clearly a lover of all creatures great and small and has a depth of knowledge that could rival that of many veterinarians.
We learn what foods are toxic to cats (milk products, inexplicably, make the list), dogs (grapes and raisins, onions, chocolate, coffee, fruit pits and seeds) and horses (avocados). We cover general welfare including grooming, hygiene and emotional wellbeing, as well as how to pet-proof the home and garden, correctly read a dog or a cat’s body language and restrain a bird when necessary (top tip: have a towel handy).
We even cover common sense basics like dogs don’t wear shoes, so taking them for a walk on boiling-hot concrete on a scorching summer’s day is not the cleverest idea.
By the time the doggequin comes into play, I’m almost out of puff. As I apply the directed 30 compressions before breathing into its mouth, I imagine my cat’s reaction to such disloyal conduct.
While the courses cater for any type of animal, they tend to be grouped by species to avoid hissy fits, and to ensure lessons are as relevant as possible to participants. You don’t need to have an animal to come along – I am one of three people in our class of nine who has come sans puppy and have an equally rewarding time.
During the presentation, Tammara briefly covers off first aid for cats and pocket pets including guinea pigs and rabbits, plus birds and lizards.
The Canberra chapter of St John is the only one in Australia to offer Pet First Aid, and the idea came from animal-loving staff members who saw a gap in the market. Attendees range from pet owners and people working for foster and rescue organisations, to those who simply want to know what to do in an emergency.
St John ACT Pet First Aid courses are from $115 to $125 per person and are offered via Zoom and face to face. $5 from each booking is donated to ACT Pet Crisis, which provides subsidised veterinary care for disadvantaged, low-income pet owners who have no other options to care for their pets. Book now.