by: CHRIS NELSON - Chris Nelson used her savings to purchase pet oxygen mask kits for three of the Estacada fire districts vehicles. Volunteer fire engineer Joe Schwab's puppy, Firedog Jake, sleeps between two kits.When animal-lover Chris Nelson of Estacada started using a computer for the first time in February, one of the first sites she came across was that of the Emma Zen Foundation.

The California-based foundation strives to supply fire departments with pet oxygen mask kits.

Each kit contains three mask sizes designed to fit the muzzles of dogs, cats and other household pets.

The foundation’s website explains that thousands of American pets die each year because of fire and fire-related issues.

Pet oxygen masks help to prevent pets from succumbing to asphyxiation, which the site explains is the leading cause of death in a fire.

But oxygen masks designed for humans don’t fit pets properly.

Nelson, who says she considers her three dogs and two cats her kids, assumed the Estacada Fire Department would surely have the proper equipment for pets.

She was shocked when her husband, Brook Nelson, a longtime volunteer lieutenant with the department, told her it did not.

“The truth is, most fire departments don’t,” Chris explained.

But she wasn’t about to accept that state of affairs.

After researching the Emma Zen Foundation and equipment, Nelson got in touch with Estacada Fire Department officials to see if they’d welcome the kits if Nelson could find a way to get them.

Fire Chief Bob Morrisey and fire engineer Don Ireland gave their blessing after confirming there’d be room on the rigs for the kits.

But it would be up to Nelson to find a way to purchase them.

“They’re mostly a volunteer fire department, so they can’t afford to do these things,” she said.

Nelson made it clear that fundraising was well out of her comfort zone.

“I really suck at asking for donations especially with the economy the way it is,” she said. “But the fire department really needs these.”

So she gave it a shot.

A friend and her mother donated $13 to Nelson’s cause.

But donations weren’t coming quickly enough.

“My husband will be the first to tell you I have no patience, especially when it comes to animal safety,” she said.

So she decided to use the money she’d been saving for truck repairs to just go ahead and purchase three kits.

At $75 per kit, that added up to $212 for the self-described “stay at home wife.”

A few months after mailing a check to the Emma Zen Foundation, the kits arrived.

The Nelsons, their dogs, along with Ireland, volunteer fire engineer Joe Schwab, his Dalmatian puppy and others opened the kits on Oct. 30, 2012.

The department has “done some trainings” with the kits, which have been in service on three fire department vehicles for several months.

Luckily, to Nelson’s knowledge, they haven’t had to use them yet.

Nelson explained that Schwab has since taken up the cause and has been working to supply pet oxygen mask kits to more fire departments.

“The whole reason I wanted the pictures out there and somewhat of a story was to let the town know they have (the pet oxygen mask kits) and that they care,” Nelson said.

Nelson is something of an animal rights activist.

Proud owners of an adopted pit bull, the Nelsons often participate in monthly “Bully Walks” put on by the Portland Pit Bull Project.

Pit bull owners gather to walk their loveable, well-behaved dogs in order to dispel the breed’s negative reputation and to combat breed specific legislation that unfairly discriminates against or targets certain dogs.

Nelson said that the day before Thanksgiving, she loaded her truck with wet and dry pet food, toys and supplies and drove to three different animal shelters in order to make sure that the shelter animals “all had a holiday.”

She has a hard time not adopting more pets.

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