Shepaug Grad's Senior Project Helped Save a Dog's Life
Posted on 09/29/2017
Ozzy, the dog saved with Luke's oxygen masksSeptember 24th promised to be a gorgeous day in the Litchfield Hills. The second day of autumn felt more like burnished, golden summer, an invitation to go out and enjoy the countryside that remained green and glorious, while also tinged with fall reds and yellows.

Alan Arellano headed out that morning with his 8-year-old Golden Retriever, Ozzy, for a hike in the Steep Rock Association’s Macricostas Preserve, where the marquee trail ascends to The Pinnacle, rewarding hikers with dramatic views of Lake Waramaug far below.

It would turn out to be a humid day when temperatures pushed into the low 90s and broke Connecticut records, and for Alan the hike would end with Ozzy in peril and the dog’s life being saved by a team effort in which 2017 Shepaug graduate Luke Cheney and his Senior Project to outfit the Washington Volunteer Fire Department with rescue oxygen kits for pets played a key role. 

Matt Taylor, a friend of Alan and Ozzy, who had gone hiking with them that day, told the tale in an email to Shepaug administrators:

“Yesterday I was involved in the rescue of a local canine in distress on a hiking trail in the Macricostas Preserve,” Matt wrote. “The heat and a very heavy fur coat proved too much for Ozzy the golden retriever. When he decided he was ready to be done with the hike, he abruptly left his owner and headed back up the hill in the direction they had come (presumably following their scent back to the parking lot). If only he had stayed the course, the loop trail hike would have been done in a few more minutes. Instead, poor Ozzy went marching back up the mountain, becoming more and more desperate to cool down and get a drink.

“When we finally caught up with him, he was near the top and in serious distress,” Matt’s account continued. “His legs were giving out and his breathing was severely labored. He was suffering from what humans would commonly call heat shock. Ozzy collapsed on the side of the trail and his condition looked dire. His body needed to be cooled fast and his normal thermal regulation mechanism (panting) wasn't enough. His life was in danger.”

Washington Fire Chief Darryl Wright picks up the story at this point, explaining that a “citizen assist” call came in at 11:39 on what would turn out to be a very busy Sunday for volunteer firefighters.

He responded to the main parking area of the Macricostas Preserve, off Route 202 near the intersection of Route 47, initially uncertain about the nature of the situation or exact location of the person in distress.

Litchfield County Dispatch gave Chief Wright the caller’s cell phone number, who fortunately had service. “Once I got him on the phone, he told me the situation,” the Chief said.

Other firefighters and Connecticut State Police Trooper James Parker had also responded to the scene in the meantime. 

“Just at that point a jogger happened to be passing by,” Chief Wright said, and he knew the location of Alan Arellano and Ozzy, which wasn’t too far from The Pinnacle and maybe 1.5 miles from the parking area.

Firefighters went as far as they could on the Yellow Trail with a quad and a Gator and then hiked the rest of the way, bringing water for Ozzy and ice to cool him off. The fire department’s rescue truck had also responded, and it was equipped with one of the seven pet oxygen kits and masks that Luke Cheney had provided to the department.

Ozzy received five to 10 minutes of O2, Chief Wright said, before being loaded onto a makeshift sling and carried down the mountain. Animal Control Officer Cynthia Brissett had heard the call on her radio and alerted Dr. Michael Gorra of Aspetuck Animal Hospital, who came in to tend to Ozzy.

The first-hand account by Matt Taylor details the mountainside rescue that got Ozzy to Dr. Gorra in good shape.

“Anyone who has ever been involved in emergency medicine knows that O2 is pretty much the one thing you give all patients in all situations because it can have a profound positive effect and basically has no risk for doing harm,” he wrote to Shepaug administrators. “In this case, it was one of the factors that helped save Ozzy. The fire guys happened to mention that the special canine mask had been donated by a Shepaug student as part of a student project.

The officer and several firefighters were real heroes. They hiked about a mile and a half up with ice, water, and rescue gear. (All of them wearing street clothes/uniforms/or FD turnout gear - a major physical effort in hot conditions!) They cooled Ozzy with ice and wet towels and helped carry him down in an improvised litter made from a moving blanket. (They also kept a critical eye on the health and safety of the other rescuers.) By the time we got down the hill, Ozzy was already doing much better. Another Shepaug alum, Dr. Mike Gorra, left home on a day-off to come and open up the Aspetuck Valley Animal Hospital and stood waiting to receive Ozzy.”

The final outcome in Matt Taylor’s account: “Ozzy's temp and heart rate were back within the normal range, and after a little rest and rehydration, he'll be as good as ever!”

Chief Wright called Luke’s parents as soon as he received word from Dr. Gorra that Ozzy was OK.

“He’s a great kid,” Chief Wright said of Luke, who just became a full-time member of the fire department after having been a junior member.
“It made me really happy,” Luke said of his Senior Project helping to save a dog’s life, calling the outcome a great reward for all of the hard work he put in.

Each pet O2 kit has several different size masks—the oxygen is the same that human patients receive—and through his fundraising Luke purchased seven kits, one for each fire truck. He estimated the cost at about $90 per kit.

Not only was Luke able to purchase the life-saving equipment for the fire department but he raised enough money to also donate $2,000 to The Leary Firefighters Foundation, and got to meet and interview actor and comedian Denis Leary. 

“I love animals and the fire department,” says Luke, who works as a butcher at Washington Food Market and has three cats and a parrot. He credits his teacher at Shepaug, Betsy O’Neill, for her work in guiding his Senior Project.