Dog honored for saving lives in New Castle |

Dog honored for saving lives in New Castle

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Contributed photoKenai, a 14-year-old Bernese mountain dog, is credited for alerting the residents of a New Castle home to carbon monoxide.

NEW CASTLE, Colo. ” Todd Smarr said nine people and their pets might not have gotten out of a carbon monoxide-filled New Castle home in time Sunday had it not been for one dog ” Kenai.

Kenai woke up Smarr at about 3 a.m. He could tell something was wrong.

“She had woken us up because she was kind of whimpering,” he said. “Once I kind of got her on her feet she was very unstable and couldn’t really keep her balance.”

Kenai is a 14-year-old Bernese mountain dog.

A friend had also awakened and gone to a bathroom in the basement floor of the house. The woman came out five or 10 minutes later and said she didn’t feel well. Smarr awoke his wife, Michelle Sewald, who also said she didn’t feel that well.

“She came out of the bathroom, walked toward me and collapsed on the couch,” Smarr said.

Smarr went upstairs and woke up the others in the house. In all there were seven adults, two kids and four dogs. They discussed the symptoms, looked them up on the Internet and decided it was probably carbon monoxide poisoning. They’d noticed that two humans and a dog were affected, and the symptoms really only impacted those in the basement. Smarr wasn’t as affected as the other two. Shock and adrenaline took over once it was clear something was wrong.

“At the time I felt like I had a pretty intense headache, but it wasn’t enough to make me immobile or unconscious like it did the other two folks,” he said.

His wife had some slurred speech and kind of felt as if she’d had a stroke.

They went to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Sewald and the other woman were flown to Denver and were treated in a hyperbaric chamber. The two women and Kenai are reportedly doing fine. Smarr, of Erie, said the group came from various Front Range locations to stay at a friend’s house for the weekend.

Smarr said the house was built in the 1990s.

Doug Richards, an engineer with the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, said a call about the house came in around 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning after the people and animals were already out of the home. Firefighters went to the home and detected carbon monoxide at about 25 parts per million, Richards said.

But when they turned on a propane stove, carbon monoxide levels shot up to 500 parts per million. Richards said it’s still under investigation, but the stove is believed to be the source of carbon monoxide. It apparently only leaked carbon monoxide when it was turned on.

If the people hadn’t gotten out of the home, “they would have probably seen fatalities,” Richards said. “I can’t say that for sure, but it’s possible.”

Smarr said the group cooked pizzas Saturday night using the stove, didn’t initially notice any symptoms, then went to bed around 11:30 p.m.

Kenai was honored Wednesday in Denver with a Golden Paw Award from American Humane Association. Kelley Weir, a spokeswoman for the organization, said, “The award is basically given to animals that go above and beyond the normal everyday actions. She saved a total of 13 lives.”

Kenai is the first dog to win the award this year.

“The award really demonstrates the connection that we have with animals. It demonstrates the human-animal bond and how important it is in our community,” she said. “They’re companions. Sometimes they’re our eyes. Sometimes they’re our ears. A lot of animals are used in what we call animal-assisted therapy. They have a huge role in our daily lives.”

Smarr has had Kenai since she was a puppy and has always been very close with her. She was a big factor in getting everyone out safely.

“There’s so many stories about where this situation happens and most people just don’t wake up because they’re not aware of what’s going on,” Smarr said. “We might not have been able to get out of the house in time.”

Smarr said he’s not one to seek attention, but having his dog receive the Golden Paw Award should be a good opportunity to let other people know how important pets are and also warn people about carbon monoxide.

“If you don’t already have a detector in your house you should invest in one,” he said.

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