After visiting his grandparents and their pet in Southern California when he was a child, Kirby Holmes often returned to Texas worried about their lives and health.
“They had wildfires in a national forest that was adjacent to their neighborhood,” said Holmes, CEO of Good Air Team. “I was just always terrified at the idea that my grandparents and their black lab, Sugar, might be burned.”
Holmes, who is now 45-years-old, made a business out of his anxieties when he launched K9 Mask® by Good Air Team for dogs in 2019.
“I combined my childhood fears with this growing reality of wildfires on the West Coast and created a solution to protect pets from wildfire smoke,” he said.
Some 7,000 to 10,000 fires have plagued California every year, according to media reports. The Caldor fire has been raging near Lake Tahoe in recent weeks, which resulted in forced evacuations.
K9 Mask® by Good Air Team is an air filtration solution for dogs who live in high-risk areas where there may be smoke or other contaminants.
“Dogs can breathe in particulate matter that’s in the wildfire smoke, too,” Holmes told Dallas Express. “There a whole range of air quality concerns that any of us can breathe in as trees, grass, and brush burn, and a lot of these fires as they spread also burn buildings materials from homes and offices, tire, rubber, and gasoline chemicals. This particulate matter is toxic for both animals and humans.”
The turning point for Holmes was watching the devastating impact of the Paradise fires in Northern California in 2018 on the news in which nearly 100 people died.
“That was the first time we saw the devastating impact of these growing wildfires on the West Coast. Where there were reports not only of lost properties and loss of life but also so many pets got loose and free trying to run away from these fires and were separated from their owners,” Holmes said in an interview. “People were gathering these pets into shelters and trying to reconnect the pets with their owners. That was a significant moment for me.”
The Texas Tech graduate isn’t as concerned for cats as he is about dogs because pet cats typically use their litter boxes indoors.
“Cat don’t have to be outside so they can be more protected from having to be out in the smoke by staying inside and cats navigate the world with their whiskers so they’re not that happy about having something on their face,” said Holmes. “Part of the problem for dogs is because they go outside for bathroom breaks and they navigate with their nose, they’re certainly more susceptible to inhaling more toxins that could create short and long-term health problems.”
Those short and long-term health problems include respiratory and heart disease due to the particles being embedded deep into their lungs and blood stream.
“People are buying air filter masks for themselves at higher rates because of the wildfire smoke and it seemed reasonable that dogs who are breathing in that same air as humans when they go outside on short walks and bathroom breaks would need the same kind of protection,” Holmes said.
Like face masks for human, dog masks have also been politicized.
“We get our fair share of hate mail,” said Holmes. “We’ve never emphasized the fears about coronavirus to make sales. We just didn’t feel like that would be the best way to represent our company or try to generate sales. We tried to stay away from sales around coronavirus and just stick with what we felt like is more significant current and future needs.”
The original K9 Mask® Extreme Breathe air filter, which is an N95 PM2.5 and active carbon filter, provides the most effective filtration in wildfire smoke for a dog, according to Holmes but the limitation for dog owners using the Extreme Breathe filter is that it can only be worn for 10 minutes at a time.
“You don’t want the dog to overheat while wearing the mask because they do pant to release heat and cool off when their body temperature rises and these wildfires happen in the summer, sometimes in the fall, when there could be higher temperatures,” said Holmes. “Tor those two reasons, we want pet owners to limit the use and we put strong warnings on the product.”
The Good Air Team recently launched a second air filter option for the K9 Mask® called the Clean Breathe air filter, which allows for longer use up to 30 minutes at a time. It also provides filtration from larger particles like ash, dust, and soot.
“It is more breathable and allows dog owners to be out longer with their dog if they wanted to be out longer,” Holmes said. “It’s the same mask but we now have two air filter options to choose from that you can put inside of the mask.”
The mask includes a compartment that unzips from which the air filter can be removed or replaced.
“The dog breathes through that air filter and we know the dog is going to slobber and make a mess in that mask so you just take the air filter out and wash it,” said Holmes. “After it’s washed and dried, you put that air filter back in the mask and continue to use that same air filter.”
Both air filter options for the K9 mask have been independently tested by the Organization for Standardization (ISO) laboratory, according to a statement online.