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From Ailing Abyssinians To Smoke-Inhaling Iguanas, Shelton Service Can Help

Operations Director Jon Nowinski explains the special features on the Emergency Animal Response Service ambulance. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness
The Emergency Animal Response Service ambulance is specially outfitted for pet emergencies. Photo Credit: Meredith Guinness

SHELTON, Conn. — Jon Nowinski has a passion for helping animals.

So, when he wraps up a shift at his day job as a veterinarian’s assistant, he puts on his other hat — as driver for the Emergency Animal Response Service (EARS), the state’s first and only ambulance for animals.

Based out of the Shoreline Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center, the Shelton hospital where Nowinski works, the ambulance is available 24 hours a day across Connecticut for everything from simple transport to trauma care for animals trapped in fires and other emergency situations.

“Basically, it’s a 911 for pets,” said Nowinski, who serves as operations director for the all-volunteer service.

Remarkably, EARS is a free service, relying on donations to complete about a dozen emergency runs a month. While most smaller pets can be treated in the specially outfitted ambulance, the service can also handle horses with its equine response trailer.

The ambulance idea came to Nowinski as he saw pet owners struggling to get ailing animals to the vet. He and his 16-member team raised the $4,000 to buy a “retired people ambulance” and outfit it for pets with an exam table and even a small oxygen chamber for pets rescued from fires.

In fact, fires often present the most unusual situations, as families have pets of all kinds. Once Nowinski found himself strapping a cat-sized oxygen mask over the mouth of an iguana suffering from smoke inhalation.

“That was probably the oddest call I’ve gotten,” he said. “We had an iguana on oxygen.”

EARS is not only the only animal ambulance in the state. It’s one of a handful across the nation. EARS volunteers turned to a Florida animal ambulance team for advice on how to start their program.

But even after a 10-hour day in the Shoreline emergency room, Nowinski said helping pets through the ambulance service is immensely rewarding.

“A lot of the calls are after hours,” he said. “I”m very luck that this is my passion.”

The EARS team will be at the STARS Festival in Stratford on Sunday and the Danbury Pet Expo on Oct. 16. Click here for more information.

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