SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Just like humans, there are times when our pets are in need of extra blood.
Whether Fido gets hit by a car; Rover ate rat poison; or Scruffy gets sick, there are many reasons dogs require blood transfusions.
Once a race dog, Marty is now saving the lives of his fellow dog friends.
The four-year-old greyhound is one of 15 dogs regularly giving blood to the canine blood donation bank at Veterinary Emergency Hospital.
"He just lays there and it's done sooner than you think. He gets up, gets a treat and some food and he's on his way out," Laura Johnson said.
Johnson rescued Marty from an Iowa shelter and the veterinary tech says she didn't think twice using her pet to help others.
"It feels really good, especially working here at the clinic, we see a lot of sick patients come through and we get referrals from other vets, too and they have sick patients that need blood. He plays a part in that and that's kind of a big deal," Johnson said.
The canine blood donation bank was the brainchild of Dr. Heidi Hanson more than ten years ago, when she saw an urgent need in the emergency clinic.
"It would be like two o'clock in the morning and we needed blood product and we didn't have it," Hanson said. "We would wake somebody up to bring in a dog."
Across the country, companies and universities collect canine blood, but Hanson didn't want to have to buy and ship it. Now, thanks to the in-house blood donation bank, there is ample supply when it's needed.
"One weekend, we can use three bags of blood, three bags of plasma," Veterinary Technician Julie Best said. "Another weekend we just might not use any. It really depends."
Best helps during the donation process, which happens every 12 weeks per dog. She says the donated blood can make a big difference for a sick pooch.
"With some of those patients it can be the matter of that pet surviving to the next day," Best said. "We've actually seen one pet that looks like it's not going to make it. You give that transfusion and in a couple hours, they're feeling a lot better."
There are several different types of canine blood. The dogs can tolerate one transfusion with a different blood type, but with the large array of breeds, the organizers look for a variety of donors.
"I don't think since we've had the blood bank that we could ever go to not having it," Hanson said. "We're just used to having it that way."
Not just any dog can donate. Donors must be between two and six years of age, more than 50 pounds, well behaved and are able to sit still for five minutes during the donation period.
"Sometimes he gets a little bit tired from it but that is normal," Johnson said. "We try to restrict activity level while he recovers but he's great; just back to his old self."
Nationwide, most of the dog blood donors are owned by veterinarians and technicians, just like Marty. But Hanson says she's always looking for volunteers to save the life of a sick or injured dog.
Cat-lovers don't need to worry. Organizers also use cat blood donations, but on an as-needed basis only.
If you would like more information on the canine dog donor program, call (605)215-0733.
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