Note to Editors: Reporters wanting to visit greyhounds during a blood draw will have the opportunity to do so early afternoon on Wednesday, Aug. 13 and Thursday, Aug. 14. Reporters interested should contact Dell Rae Moellenberg at (970) 491-6009 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every two months, almost 30 dogs, mostly greyhounds, make a trip from their homes with local residents to the Colorado State University Veterinary Medical Center to donate blood. Their efforts save hundreds of dogs at the center each year, including dogs rushed to the facility’s 24-hour emergency service, in critical care or 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 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 that makes them nonchalant about the donation procedure; and a high red blood-cell count.
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 – and, because the program is non-profit, hundreds of dollars are saved by hospital clients.
Severely injured or ill dogs may need multiple units before they are stabilized, and dogs undergoing surgery may need many units as well.
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.
Another volunteer dog, Lisa, saved 21 dogs, including dogs fighting various diseases such as cancer and two dogs hit by cars. Over four years, Otter helped 20 dogs with her blood donations, including 10 dogs fighting cancer.
Dogs rotate in and out of the program based on their owner’s desired level of participation. Many owners take time off of work to drive to the hospital for the donations.
The requirements to donate blood are strict: the dogs must come from a stable home with an owner willing to commit to the program – no homeless dogs are used, dogs must be free of disease, must weigh 60 pounds and must be comfortable with the procedure to give blood.
Each donation takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Dogs donate 1 unit of blood each visit.
"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 majority of greyhound dogs have A negative blood type, a universal type, while the general canine population is frequently A positive.
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 at a reduced cost.