Dog survives fire, gets hyperbaric chamber treatment in Ottawa

A mixed terrier named Ginger is being treated in a hyperbaric chamber after surviving a fire that killed two other pets and destroyed the family home in Maxville, north of Cornwall, Ont., all while the dog's owner was in hospital having a baby.

Owner had just had a baby boy when she heard her family home in Maxville, Ont., was on fire

Taylor Smrczek sees Ginger for the first time

4 years ago
Duration 0:48
It was a full day before Taylor Smrczek could see her pet.

Taylor Smrczek had a dramatic weekend that culminated in a tearful reunion with her three-year-old mixed terrier Ginger on Tuesday night.

In the early hours of Monday morning, Smrczek gave birth to a boy, who was named Jackson.

As she waited for her father to visit her in the hospital that afternoon, she learned the family home in Maxville, about 40 kilometres north of Cornwall, Ont., was burning down.

"The baby was about 12 hours old. It was definitely not something we were ever expecting, especially on a day that was supposed to be so special," she said.

Smrczek's brother told her Ginger had been inside the house and was the first pet to escape, though the dog suffered smoke inhalation.

The family cat and bird were killed.

"I was really worried [Ginger] wouldn't make it with the smoke inhalation," Smrczek said.

Ginger was eventually taken to Ottawa's Alta Vista Animal Hospital emergency unit, where it has been in an oxygen cage and getting treatments in a hyperbaric chamber.

Taylor Smrczek and her dog Ginger were reunited after the terrier completed its second hyperbaric chamber treatment at the Alta Vista Animal Hospital in Ottawa. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Dr. Anne Chauvet, a neurologist at the animal hospital, said there are fewer than a hundred hyperbaric chambers in North America for companion animals.

"We're very lucky to be able to do this for her because that's pretty much the treatment for carbon monoxide toxicity," Chauvet said.

Alta Vista Animal Hospital staff say Ginger has some brain damage from smoke inhalation. The dog is getting drug treatment along with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Chauvet said Ginger has some brain damage because of the fire, which has led to trembling.

She said Ginger is being put in the oxygen chamber for roughly two hours at a time at a pressure equivalent to being 10 metres underwater.

The high pressure will help dislodge carbon monoxide and other toxins that have latched onto Ginger's red blood cells, either reversing or preventing the progression of her symptoms, Chauvet said.

Dr. Anne Chauvet, veterinary neurologist at Alta Vista Animal Hospital, runs the hyperbaric chamber for companion animals. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The Alta Vista Animal Hospital began using the hyperbaric chamber in late January and has since treated about 100 cats and dogs.

Each treatment costs $180, according to Chauvet.

She said hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also used for severe wounds, to reduce swelling and to help recovery after surgery.

'Day at a time' for family

Smrczek said the nursery she had bought for her baby was destroyed in the fire, but she will be staying in a place that has everything her baby needs.

Her parents are looking for a place to rent in Cornwall as they take things a "day at a time," Smrczek said. She said the fire did not completely destroy the home and they're hopeful they will be able to move back within a year. 

Taylor Smrczek looks on as Ginger receives hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The terrier has some trembling due to brain damage caused by smoke inhalation, according to animal hospital staff. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

On Tuesday, after her tearful reunion with Ginger, she was looking forward to sleeping in a real bed after being discharged from hospital with her son.

"I've had four hours of sleep in the past two days. I'm going to hopefully sleep tonight knowing Ginger's OK."

How a hyperbaric chamber will help Ginger

4 years ago
Duration 1:02
It's an ideal treatment for animals suffering from smoke inhalation.