Every two months almost 30 dogs, mostly greyhounds, make a trip from their homes with local residents to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital to donate blood. Their efforts save hundreds of dogs at the hospital each year, including dogs rushed to the facility's 24-hour emergency service, dogs in critical care and dogs undergoing surgery.
Volunteers travel from as far away as Denver and Wyoming to participate in the program under the careful guidance of nurses and veterinary technicians at the hospital.
"If the dogs object, we don't use them," said Maura Green, head nurse of small animal medicine at the hospital. Green started the program more than 20 years ago in 1987, initially working with dogs owned by veterinary students.
Many of the dogs today are referred to the program through the local greyhound rescue program, Friends of Retired Greyhounds, after a greyhound is adopted into a home. Although not all dogs in the program are greyhounds, the breed is an ideal canine blood donor. They typically have the universal canine blood type, A negative, which can be used to treat dogs of all breeds; an easy disposition; and a high red blood-cell count.
The requirements to donate blood are strict. The dogs must come from a stable home with an owner willing to commit to the program. The donors must be free of disease, weigh at least 60 pounds and be comfortable with the procedure to give blood. Dogs donate one unit of blood each visit and each donation takes about 15 to 20 minutes. By participating in the program, volunteer dogs are screened for illnesses and infectious diseases, and receive a free bag of dog food for each donation.
When each dog retires from the program, his or her owner receives a letter with information about many or all of the other dogs that volunteers saved through their service. One such dog, Andrew Johnson, was a volunteer for six years. Among the 34 dogs on Andrew Johnson's list of dogs saved are a boxer with a brain tumor, a toy poodle that needed brain surgery, a border collie with a shoulder injury, an English bulldog with stomach cancer and a mixed breed dog with a blood platelet disorder.
"We frequently worry about getting enough greyhound dogs in the program so that we can keep our blood supply well stocked," said Kris Obssuth, coordinator of the canine blood donor program. "If it weren't for volunteer blood donors, we would not be able to provide the care that our most critical patients need to survive."
The CSU blood bank keeps about 13 units of blood and about 50 units of plasma at a time to meet the hospital's needs. About 500 units are used each year. Without the volunteer donation programs, units of blood would cost hospital clients $200-$350 each, depending on the blood type and volume of the unit. Because of the program, blood is available to clients and their canine companions at a reduced cost.
Greyhound image courtesy of Washington State University