Whittier couple’s first-aid training business ‘pulls on heartstrings’

Pet CPR classes have brought their company success

Red Cape CPR co-founder Christopher Otto manned an information booth in the education building of the Minnesota State Fair. He and his wife, Lisa Rodriguez-Otto, have been sharing their family story — Rodriguez-Otto’s 21-year-old son Jacob died after an opioid overdose in 2017 — and teaching people about the importance of being prepared in emergency situations. Submitted photo

Jacob McBride — an artistically inclined 21-year-old with long, wavy hair and a love of skateboarding and scary movies — died in 2017 after overdosing on opioids on a Blue Line light rail train.

The three people he was traveling with dragged him off the train at a Bloomington station, went through his pockets and fled. Captured by a platform security camera, McBride’s companions were arrested; two were sent to prison and the third to a treatment facility.

“They just left,” said Christopher Otto, McBride’s stepfather. “He wasn’t able to get to an ambulance in time because no one called 911.”

In the aftermath of this tragedy, Otto, a trained nursing assistant, and his wife, Lisa Rodriguez-Otto, whose background is in social service, quit their jobs and dedicated themselves to educating others about first aid, CPR and the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

“We wanted to teach people what to do and not to panic, not to run,” Otto said. “We can’t change the problem but we can attempt to lessen the deaths.”

Since the Whittier couple started their business, Red Cape CPR, in January, they’ve led more than 300 paid small-group training sessions in South Uptown, Windom, Bryn Mawr and other locations across the metro and the state. They also volunteer their time leading free naloxone administration trainings, whose graduates receive free Narcan kits.

“It feels like we’re doing everything we can from a situation in which we felt helpless,” Otto said. “We’re trying to make some sort of positive situation out of a tragedy.”

Making an effort

The deep feeling of helplessness that followed the loss of their son in May 2017 was rekindled three months after his passing when their cat Otis, an 8-year-old Maine Coon, died suddenly of a heart condition.

“We wondered if there was such a thing as pet CPR, if it even existed,” Otto said. “When we found out it did, it made so much sense.”

Already planning to open a first-aid training business, they decided to expand their offerings to include a course specializing in emergency care for pets.

A week after Otto received his pet CPR training certificate in 2018, their cat Reggie — a short-haired tabby they had recently taken in from Rodriguez-Otto’s sister — became unresponsive in their living room.

“I was able to at least attempt CPR on the cat — to no avail, we lost him — but at least at that point I knew what to do. I made an effort instead of just being helpless,” Otto said. “Then it all made sense to me. I wanted to make sure that people were prepared because often with our pets we don’t know what to do and are panicking and rushing to the vet. There are things we can be doing in that intermediate time that can make a difference.”

Participants practice first-aid techniques on a variety of stuffed animals and a rubber canine mannequin named Casper. “We look for stuffed animals that are proportional to the actual size of the animal, and sometimes we stuff them a little more to make them more solid, more realistic,” Christopher Otto said. Submitted photo

Pet CPR classes

Most of Red Cape CPR’s business now comes from pet CPR classes. A four-hour course costs $80, with discounts offered to animal rescue organizations.

Participants learn to perform weekly checks of their pets’ breathing rate, pulse and temperature to establish a baseline for detecting illness. “Cats can hide ailments so it’s important to monitor them especially,” Otto said.

Participants also learn how to check their pets for small tumors; how to examine their teeth, gums and paws; how to clean, bandage and monitor superficial wounds; and how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver on different types of animals.

Otto conducts the classes, with his wife assisting, and they share helpful information, like what to do if your pet is poisoned. Should your dog get bitten by a snake, he said, take her collar off so swelling around the neck won’t cause her to choke.

Participants practice first-aid techniques on a variety of stuffed animals, including stuffed huskies and golden retrievers purchased at Ikea. “We look for stuffed animals that are proportional to the actual size of the animal, and sometimes we stuff them a little more to make them more solid, more realistic,” Otto said.

At the end of each class, participants use a rubber canine mannequin named Casper to practice CPR. “He’s pliable, so when you do the compressions, his chest is going to collapse just like a real dog’s rib cage would,” Otto said.

Otto said that when performing CPR on pets, it’s important to adjust your method based on the animal’s size. “Where their heart is placed is going to depend on the width and the depth of their chest, and that’s going to tell you where to put your hands for the compression,” he said. “For different chest sizes, you need to apply different amounts of pressure.”

Hundreds of Minnesotans have already taken a pet CPR course through Red Cape. Otto said they’ve found success posting on Facebook groups like Dogs of MSP and asking people if they are prepared to help their pets through a medical emergency.

“People think about all the times they’ve lost pets and they could have done something, and it motivates them to want to learn more,” Otto said. “We kind of pull on heartstrings because that’s where it came from for us.”