DUNEDIN — If fate exists, Dr. Elizabeth Baird experienced it over the past two days.
After an explosion and fire rocked a Dunedin house down the street from her home Wednesday, the veterinarian used a canine oxygen mask to help save a dog pulled from the rubble.
The dog, a 40-pound American Eskimo named Jingles, was taken to Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa, where he remained in critical but stable condition Thursday.
By sheer coincidence, Baird was at a previously scheduled news conference Thursday talking about another dog, a 75-pound American bulldog named Wrigley, whose brush with death four years ago led to an effort to equip emergency vehicles with animal oxygen masks.
Wrigley nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning because the Clearwater rescue unit that tried to help her was not equipped with the snout-sized masks.
Though more than 120 masks were distributed to local rescue operations after Wrigley's ordeal, the Suncoast Animal League is trying to raise money to buy 50 more. At the news conference Thursday, the league announced it was donating 12 masks to Clearwater Fire Rescue.
Luckily, a Dunedin fire unit had a mask aboard after the blast Wednesday.
"I don't think there's any question (the dog) is alive today because of Dr. Baird's expertise and that the Dunedin Fire Department had the canine oxygen mask on board," said Rick Chaboudy, executive director and co-founder of the Suncoast Animal League.
The amazing chain of events began Wednesday when Baird took a personal day from her Country Oaks Animal Hospital practice to care for her 100-pound Doberman, Timber, who was recovering from orthopedic surgery. But their relaxing morning ended at 10:24 a.m. when the house shuddered violently.
When emergency vehicles started passing their house, she looked outside and saw billowing black smoke coming from Michigan Boulevard not far away.
Baird quickly changed from her pajamas to jeans and stood barefoot with other onlookers in a nearby church yard.
Then she saw a firefighter carrying a limp, white dog out of the smoky ruins. She told a police officer she was a veterinarian.
"He came back and got me and they picked a spot in the shade and laid him down," Baird said. "I did a quick triage. There was a paramedic student who lent me his stethoscope and I heard a heartbeat."
She said the dog was having trouble breathing. She could also see that he had head trauma.
His pupils were small, indicating a concussion. Blood trickled from his nostrils and he had burns on his right side.
Jingles was in shock.
Baird, a former emergency veterinarian, put a human oxygen mask up against his snout and started intravenous fluids. Because the mask didn't fit, she asked a Dunedin rescuer for a canine mask.
But Jingles still was on the verge of death.
"He was in and out of consciousness and thrashing and he had a grand mal seizure," Baird said.
She worked on Jingles for about a half-hour, then loaded him into her husband's vehicle. She took him to the Animal Hospital of Dunedin.
Later, Chaboudy took the dog to Florida Veterinary Specialists.
"Given Jingles' injuries, the smoke inhalation, the swelling of the brain, it was imperative he got the maximum rate of oxygen as quickly as possible," he said.
In another twist, the fire official who used a human oxygen mask to save Wrigley, Clearwater Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Doug Swartz, also had responded to the explosion Wednesday.
"When the firefighter came out carrying Jingles, Doug said, 'It was deja vu.' He felt a great sense of relief a vet was available," Baird said.
"You wonder how it all came about," she said. "Because of Wrigley's experience, we had an oxygen mask available for Jingles. Because we did surgery on Wrigley, he was here today.
"Had my dog not had surgery this week, I would not have been home. It does make you wonder. Things fell into place."
Reach Eileen Schulte at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.