Back in 2017, Southern California firefighters rescued a 4-month-old puppy from a raging wildfire.
The Great Dane/Lab mix was placed in an Anaheim animal shelter, with hopes of being reunited with her owners. When no family came to claim her, she was put up for adoption.
The pup’s soulful brown eyes and engaging demeanor soon won the heart of Debra Jo Chiapuzio, a former medical tattoo artist who’d employed her skills to lend emotional support to burn victims and cancer survivors.
In addition to her “ink creds,” Chiapuzio was also a longtime teaching practitioner of animal first aid and CPR.
She named her new fur baby Emma Zen because “she’s as Zen as her name—super mellow, super sweet, easygoing, and very adventurous,” Chiapuzio said.
Even before adopting Emma Zen, no one understood better than Chiapuzio the devastating toll California wildfires were taking companion animals. Along with that knowledge, Chiapuzio saw an untapped need she felt destined to fulfill.
Chiapuzio started out by donating 17 specially fitted pet oxygen masks to the Anaheim fire department. She trained the firefighters to use them—but in her heart, she knew there was more to be done.
So, in 2011, Chiapuzio launched the nonprofit Emma Zen Foundation with the goal of distributing pet oxygen masks and offering education in their proper use to as many first responders as possible.
The dynamic duo of Chiapuzio and Emma Zen has since been checking in with fire stations up and down the West Coast.
As a result of their efforts—along with some much-appreciated help from a variety of donors including Girl Scout troops, the Annenberg Foundation, and numerous individuals—so far, the Emma Zen Foundation has been able to distribute 7,500 pet oxygen masks nationwide.
With the increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in the States, Chiapuzio eventually decided to dedicate herself to the Emma Zen foundation full-time.
At 13, in spite of a bit of age-related doggy arthritis, Emma Zen the canine still keeps her dog mom company as she makes the rounds.
“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,” Chiapuzio said. “This has been my biggest accomplishment, and I was led there by a dog.”