Ricki Lake Fire Tragedy Teaches Lessons in Pet Emergency Preparedness

by Patrick Mahaney on October 1, 2010

Photo of Ricki Lake Flickr Creative Commons Photo by David Shankbone

Actress Ricki Lake recently suffered a terrible misfortune when her rented Malibu home burned down (see TMZ report) . Fortunately, Lake escaped, along with her family and dog.

In my clinical veterinary practice, I have treated health problems, ranging in severity from mild to fatal, afflicting pets exposed to fires (see Southern California Wildfires can negatively impact your pet’s health). I am so glad to hear that all human and animal members of Lake’s household emerged physically unharmed.

Lake’s misfortune prompts me to spread the message of fire safety preparedness to pet owners, as one never knows when unforeseen tragedy can occur.

Be aware of your pet’s location
In the urgency of a fire, sometimes a beloved pet’s location may be unknown. Cats and small dogs can hide in a closet, under a bed, or elsewhere in attempt to escape the stress and potential harm caused by smoke, heat, and toxins produced by burning debris. Medium and large breed dogs tend to make their presence more obvious, but they may instinctually flee from a dangerous scene unbeknownst to their concerned owner.

In general, be consistently aware of your pet’s location in your house or yard. Be observant of your pet’s habits, including their preferential location to nap, nest, or hide. Knowing your pet’s “free time” habits can facilitate their discovery in times of emergency.

Have your pet wear identification
Should your pet run away from your home, a safe return may more readily if a lost pet bears your up to date identification. Fit your pet with a cervical (neck) collar displaying a tag or embroidered the collar with your pet’s name and at least your phone number or email. As collars can be removed or fall off, microchip implantation can increase the likelihood you will be reunited with your pet. Keep your personal information up to date with the microchip manufacturer. Since microchip identification requires a scanner and collars can go missing, the use of both is ideal.

Alert emergency personnel of your pet’s presence in your home
To better alert firefighters and other emergency service personnel of your pet’s presence in your home, post a notification in a clearly viewed window. In 2009, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and ADT Security Services partnered to create window clings so pet owners can write information about their pet (dog, cat, other, date). I would like to see the clings include more details, including the pet’s species (dog, cat, etc), name, color, body weight, age, and any other relevant characteristics (friendly, on medications, etc).

Immediately seek veterinary care
If your pet is exposed to smoke, fire, or other noxious substance, seek immediate care from your veterinarian or emergency veterinary facility. Tissue damage from heat or smoke may not be readily apparent from external evaluation. Fragile organs like the lungs can quickly become damaged from contact with heat or smoke. Determination of the degree lung and other tissue has been traumatized may require diagnostics (xrays, blood tests, etc) to permit the best treatment for your pet’s particular condition.

My own pet, Cardiff, stays by my side (like a shadow) at home, wears a tagged neck collar, and has a microchip. These measures are taken so that Cardiff and I will be reunited should we become separated during an emergency at home or out on one of our many explorations of our surroundings.

I wish the best to Ricki Lake, and both her human and canine family members. Hopefully, they will soon settle into a new home and lead a safe existence.

Photo Credit Creative Commons Flickr David Shankbone

Related links
Southern California Wildfires Can Negatively Impact Your Pet’s Health
Personal Coyote Encounter Prompts Updated Pet Safety Tips

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Copyright of this article (2010) is owned by Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr. Patrick Mahaney.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jana Rade October 3, 2010 at 2:57 pm

No kidding on knowing the pet’s location!

Our neighbors burned down their town house not long ago. As the fire was raging, there they all are, in front of the house in their nighties, and calling for their dog who’s clearly still inside somewhere!

As they said they couldn’t find him!

Fortunately, the firemen found and got the dog out and he was ok. Apparently he was hiding under the bed in the master bedroom. (Kind of a good place as the fire originated in the kitchen).


Patrick Mahaney October 9, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Glad to hear the dog got out with the aid of the fireman! Poor little (assuming, since he was under the bed) guy must have been so stressed by the fire. I hope he didn’t suffer any health problems related to smoke or heat!
Dr. PM


Jana Rade October 9, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Wasn’t that little, a Rottweiler pup, about 6 months I think. Fortunately he was fine, which is amazing because enough fire to melt the stove (started with a person trying to make home fries in a pot in the middle of the night and falling asleep).


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