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Hot Off the Press

Portable generators can be deadly to pets, humans


I almost killed my dogs this past weekend, when Hurricane Dennis came roaring across the South. Because I knew Dennis might blow off roofs, cause trees to fall and disrupt power, I'd gotten ready. I'd already cranked my gasoline-operated generator to make sure it worked and plugged in the extension cords. When the power went off, I cranked-up my generator so we could run the TV, an electric fan that I hate and lights in our downstairs den where we had sofa beds. We had our cat in the den with us and had to put our dogs in the outer part of the basement about 10-feet away from the generator, since they didn't get along at all with the cat. We had the door to the outside propped open to make sure the fumes didn't circulate back in the basement. I felt smug knowing I'd done all the right things, particularly since we'd used this same setup about a half-dozen times before successfully. None of us slept very well, and at 5:45 a.m. we heard the dogs whining. My wife went out into the basement and screamed. I jumped out of bed and went running. Both dogs were laid out, one unconscious and the other semi-conscious on the floor.

"The back door must have almost closed from the high winds," my wife said in a hysterical voice. Tartan, my male Scottie tried without success to get up, but Thistle, my female Scottie, lay lifeless on the floor with her eyes open. We laid both the dogs on the driveway and popped on their chests, trying to make them breathe.

We placed the dogs on blankets in our car, and Denise rushed them to the Emergency Animal Hospital, just down the road from where we lived in Altadena. I felt like Tartan would make it, since he was more alert. Then finally Thistle's chest began moving, so I knew she had started back breathing. The vet gave both dogs IVs and oxygen and did blood work. A couple of hours later, we picked up our dogs and took them to their regular vet.

Here's what I've learned from this frightening experience.

Do bring in your animals when your area has the threat of severe weather.

Place your gas-powered generator outside, regardless of how much ventilation you think you have.

Develop some type of shelter for your generator so that when bad weather approaches, you can place the generator outside the house.

Consider every variable that may happen during a bad storm. Although I'd played all the what-if games before the storm hit, I didn't think about the basement door's blowing shut from the wind and weather and then filling the basement with carbon monoxide. I thought I'd covered all my bases. Too, since we'd used this same plan several times before, I think I'd lulled myself into thinking that all would be well. Luckily, our two pooches made it, and we survived the storm. Too, we all learned a very-important message. Never run a portable generator inside the house, even if it's your basement. Instead, build a shelter for that generator outside your house. If you bring animals inside the house, make sure the animals have proper ventilation during the storm. Learn from my stupidity. We still don't have power, but our generator now runs outside our home.

Aug. 18, 2005