Animal Blood Donors

By Andrea Dyck, RVT

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I meet new friends all the time. As part of my job as the Blood Services Coordinator at the Animal Emergency Clinic in Langley, I get to screen all the new potential donors. That means getting to meet people who really care, not just about their own pets, but about other people’s pets. It’s an honour to meet and get to work with these amazing animals and their owners.

Our program started out small, just a few cats and dogs, most of which were staff pets. In 2010, I took over the program and began a campaign to expand. Why? Because I hated having to say no. When a veterinarian calls us and says that they have an animal that needs a life-saving transfusion, I want to be able to help them and with only a handful of donors, that just wasn’t going to happen. So we started asking for help from the public and that’s how I met a Golden Doodle named Mateor.

In June 2013, I walked into the waiting area to meet my next appointment and saw a cream-coloured fluff ball sitting on one of the benches out front like he owned the place. Mateor was a puppy who’d been given up on. He has struggled with dog aggression since he was very young, but mom decided she wanted to give him a chance, so she took him on. Nowadays, his mom has him incredibly well-trained and this day, he was completely focused on her. He barely noticed me approach, probably because he didn’t know that I had treats in my pocket, (I’m not above buying my friends with food.)

In the exam room, Mateor quickly decided we were best friends (with some carrots and a bit of cheese), and plunked himself in my lap while I chatted with mom. I meet people and hear their stories all the time. Mostly, people come to me because they want to help other animals, but never had I heard such a personal story from someone. Mateor’s mom told me about her previous dog Mya, who in a freak accident, was badly injured. She needed blood and she needed it now, but there was none available. Mya didn’t survive her accident, but her mom knew that with Mateor’s help, she could make sure no one else ever had to lose their pet like she did. Not only did Mateor have a reason to give back, to pay forward the chance at life he had been given, but mom could heal her heart from the loss of Mya by helping other people who were in the same situation. Mateor joined the program later that week and has become a big advocate of blood donation, helping us meet new donors and new friends.

Gunnar with blood

Our program consists of both cats and dogs. There are a number of criteria the animal must meet to be a candidate for the program: 

Between the ages of 1-6yrs
 
– Animals can be used up to the age of 9, but we do not admit dogs to the program older than 6yrs, or cats older than 3-4 yrs.
– Over 50lbs for dogs and over 8lbs for cats.
– Must have a good temperament and be in good physical condition.
– Must be fed a quality dry or canned food, (no raw diets).
– Must be vaccinated (or titred), dewormed and treated for fleas.
– Must be spayed or neutered
– Must never have had a transfusion previously.
 
 When someone brings their pet in, I perform a quick physical exam and temperament assessment. Animals who are outgoing, friendly, confident and food-motivated work best for our program. I take a small sample of blood and run a test in house to determine what their blood type is. Depending on the results, we then send them off to the veterinary lab for a full blood typing, along with running blood chemistry and tests for parasites and blood borne pathogens at no cost to the owner. Once we receive the results and they are cleared by a veterinarian, I inform the owners and add their pet to our list of volunteer donors. 
 
We make an effort to work around our donor owners schedules as much as we can. Most of our blood related appointments are held on Saturdays. Donors come in every 3 months, so you will always know ahead of time approximately when your next donation will be. Mateor often calls me to ask if he can come in, not the other way around. We generally give their owners at least two or three weeks notice, so that we can work best around their schedule.

Most owners drop their dogs off, but some do bring a magazine or a book and wait. Owners are always welcome to sit with their pet through the donation as well, so long as we aren’t also dealing with any big emergencies. A donation takes between 15-45 mins, depending on the animal. Mateor is one of our donors who gets some sedation for his blood draw, simply because we don’t want him jumping with a needle in his vein if he hears a dog bark in the back. Most of our dogs do not require sedation, just a bit of treats and some training to teach them what we are asking them to do. Cats are always sedated for their donations and so will have longer appointments than their canine counterparts.
 
We try to make the donation and volunteer experience as fun as possible for both our donors and their owners. We want our donors to be excited to come in and see us. They learn the system – where to go when they come in, what they are supposed to do, and where exactly the treats are hidden. After each donation, they are fed a special snack (diet permitting) and we send home extra treats whenever available. In addition, the owners are sent a gift card of their choice the week after.

Over the last few years, the Blood Donor Program has become a status symbol for our donors, a source of joy for myself and a blessing for many sick and injured pets. Mateor is just one of the many amazing furry family members who help us do our jobs better. He has come in every three months, without fail, for the last 2.5 years. I don’t know who is more excited for his appointments, him or me. To date, he has helped save more than 10 dogs and he is just short of 4 years old. Pretty good for a puppy the world gave up on…