Inspiration can come from anywhere, for one woman from Anaheim California, it came from a four legged friend. Emma Zen, a Great Dane/Labrador retriever mix, was just 4 months old when firefighters rescued her from the devastating wildfires in Southern California in 2007. Sadly, no one ever came to claim her — but when she became available for adoption, Debra Jo Chiapuzio took her home.
For decades, Debra had been teaching pet first aid and CPR in her spare time. But now that she had Emma, she wanted to make sure the fire department in Anaheim had the equipment to take care of the animals they rescued from fires. Oxygen masks for humans can’t properly fit over animal snouts, so they aren’t as useful for emergency oxygen supply. But pet oxygen masks have rubber seals that are flexible to completely cover noses and mouths.
So Debra donated 17 masks to the department and trained firefighters on how to use them. Thinking other fire stations could benefit, she created the nonprofit Emma Zen Foundation in 2011 and started reaching out to fire departments from home and on vacation — with the organization’s namesake by her side.
“I would go on vacation throughout our Western states and every time I saw a fire department, I’m stopping,” Chiapuzio recalled. “I’m pretty sure Emma has been in about 90% of the fire departments on the West Coast.” Not bad for a dog that’s not a dalmation!
Thanks to that effort and donations ranging from individual donors and Girl Scout troops to the Annenberg Foundation, the Emma Zen Foundation has donated more than 7,500 pet oxygen masks to firefighters and first responders across the United States.
While people don’t always know where the masks that helped save their pets come from, Debra is always moved when she hears from those whose pets have survived fires. In that first year, 2017, she got to meet a family with young children and their puppy, Penelope — who had been resuscitated by a firefighter who used a mask from the Emma Zen Foundation.
“The mom said her children weren’t really affected like the adults were when it came to property. The only thing they knew was life, and their puppy had it because of us,” she said. “It just touched my heart in ways I don’t think I’ve ever felt. The adults knew the devastation and the children only knew life.”
Chiapuzio, 58, is a former medical tattoo artist who worked with cancer survivors and burn victims — like firefighters. Word spread with firefighters after she successfully tattooed hair onto the burned leg of a man named Patrick, and he was able to wear shorts for the first time in 12 years.
“He told a friend, who told a friend, who told a friend, and I was working on adding continuity of tone, color, skin and hair to people who had been in fires,” she said. “I found myself in this really unique niche and I loved to be there.”
Truly a woman who has been connected to the effort of recovery after the fire for many years. Now she, and Emma Zen, are your Good News Story of the Day, and you can find out more about them here.
While her path in life has had many twists and turns, she’s grateful for her experiences and to Emma Zen for inspiring the Emma Zen Foundation. “If I died tomorrow, we left behind — Emma and I — something that means more to me than anything, and that’s the animals on this planet,” she said. “This has been my biggest accomplishment, and I was led there by a dog.”
Story and Image from Today.