Dog helps group avert tragedy on weekend trip

A 14-year-old dog feted in Arvada on Wednesday for its life-saving actions near New Castle over the weekend took the accolades in stride, an observer said.

Kelley Weir, a spokesperson for the American Humane Association, said 70-pound Kenai, a Bernese mountain dog mix, graciously accepted the Golden Paw medal placed around her neck and “kind of pranced around the room” after being recognized for alerting people to carbon monoxide poisoning.

“I think she clearly knew that the party was for her,” Weir said.

This is the first Golden Paw award the association has given in the country this year. The award recognizes extraordinary acts by companion animals.

Kenai’s owners, Todd Smarr and Michelle Sewald, of Erie, were staying with seven other people at a vacation home up Main Elk Creek Road (Garfield County Road 243) over the weekend. Kenai alerted Smarr to a possible problem early Sunday morning.

“She woke me up in the middle of the night, kind of whimpering,” Smarr said.

Others woke up, and the vacationers realized that some of them were sick, likely as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Kenai also wasn’t feeling well, which Smarr acknowledged might have been the driving force behind her actions.

“It wasn’t really as heroic as it’s kind of played out to be, but her actions were certainly life-saving,” he said.

Two members of the group had to be flown to a Denver hospital for treatment in a hyberbaric chamber, Smarr said.

Weir added, “Stories like Kenai’s really demonstrate the human-animal bond and how important it is in our society.”

Brit McLin, chief of the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, said a propane kitchen stove is the suspected source of the carbon monoxide.

No carbon monoxide detector was in the home.

In February, the state Legislature approved a bill requiring such detectors in new homes and houses for sale. It was prompted in part by the November deaths of a Denver family of four while they were vacationing in Aspen.

McLin said he’s not sure a law is needed, but that it’s a matter of common sense to install detectors in homes. He said that’s especially true in the case of newer homes that are built more airtight, which means carbon monoxide levels can build up easier, and appliances may not get enough oxygen for proper combustion.


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