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If Fido Meets Irene—First-Aid Gear for Pets

Hurricane Irene is bearing down on the East Coast, and emergency responders are preparing to rescue residents unlucky enough to be overcome by Mother Nature.

They're also preparing to save the animals, too.

Hurricane In this handout satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Irene on August 25, 2011 in the Caribbean Sea.
Source: NOAA
Hurricane In this handout satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Irene on August 25, 2011 in the Caribbean Sea.

Americans spend an estimated $50 billion plus a year on their pets, so it may be no surprise that fire departments have been seeking out customized gear for dogs, cats, and even birds.

A company called Wag'n Enterprises has sold pet oxygen masks to over 800 fire departments around the country in 44 states, including those from Maine to Florida, right in Irene's path. One concern is that pet shelters may be overwhelmed by lost and injured animals due to the hurricane, which happened after Katrina. Most shelters don't have this kind of specialty gear, but the company says masks will be carried by some county and state animal response teams, the pet equivalents of FEMA.

The masks come in different sizes, some small enough for guinea pigs and birds.

"The masks that are sold to emergency responders are sold at cost," says Ines de Pablo, who heads up the Pet Emergency Management Division of Wag'N Enterprises. "Masks that are sold to consumers are sold at a slight markup."

Consumers pay $90 for a kit for three masks and three tubes, while fire departments are charged $65 apiece. The kits do not come with oxygen.

Wag'N Enterprises says it uses some of its net profits to underwrite mask production for first responders, believing these kits save lives. Here's a testimonial with pictures of a puppy rescue in Kennett, MO.

This is a business, and the point is to make money. However, the company says growing margins is not its primary focus right now. "The biggest challenge," says de Pablo, "is getting word out there to the fire departments that these special oxygen kits are available."

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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