updated 9/4/2006 1:24:47 PM ET 2006-09-04T17:24:47

Pets here will be breathing a little easier now that local rescuers will be carrying oxygen masks designed for animals.

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Six Appleton fire trucks and 13 ambulances will be equipped with masks intended for use on dogs, cats and other small animals.

Alderman Richard Thompson initiated the program after he saw a newspaper photograph of a firefighter in Superior giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a cat rescued from a house fire.

"A pet is family to most people," he said. "I know I wouldn't want to lose Maggie, my collie, or Lucy, my Tabby cat, to a fire, carbon monoxide poisoning or Lord knows what else."

The money to pay for each $49 mask came from donations by local animal lovers.

"It was something to see," Thompson said. "There was no organized solicitation effort. People and community groups just read or heard about the program and stepped up to the plate."

The masks, which come in three sizes, will be distributed to each of six fire stations and to the Appleton Police Department K-9 unit, he said.

The Madison Fire Department carries similar masks on its seven ambulances, said Lori Wirth, the department's community education officer.

The Madison department also bought its masks with money raised from unsolicited donations, she said. In fact, the department raised so much money it was able to buy mask kits for several neighboring communities.

Wirth said the department's firefighters haven't had to use the masks yet but they're trained and willing.

"What we've done so far is use the masks as a way to remind people to get out of their residence in the event of a fire and don't go searching for pets," she said. "Firefighters will care for any pets we find in the event they suffer from smoke inhalation."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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