Dog blood donors are saving the lives of fellow canines

BELLINGHAM — Lela Copeland took one look at her boyfriend’s beagle puppy, which had been run over after falling out of the back of their pickup truck on Woburn Street earlier this month, and knew the dog needed more than a few stitches and a splint for a broken leg.

Her boyfriend, Clint Carrell, 20, wrapped Roxy in his coat and Copeland, 17, drove them to Bellingham Veterinary and Critical Care, which Copeland knew was also the home of Northwest Veterinary Blood Bank, one of few of animal blood banks in the state.

"If my girlfriend didn’t know that, the dog would have been dead," Carrell said. "If we got there 15 minutes after that, she would have died."

The bank supplies blood to its own clinic and to other veterinary hospitals throughout Whatcom County, as well as the western part of the state. The next nearest animal blood bank is in Portland, Ore., said Edmund Sullivan, who helped start the Northwest Veterinary Blood Bank in 2001.

Four main commercial animal blood banks, and several smaller banks like Bellingham, supply clinics in the United States, said Jane Wardrop, president of the Association of Veterinary Hematology and Transfusion Medicine and an associate professor of veterinary medicine at Washington State University.

As veterinary medicine becomes more specialized and pet owners are more willing to pay human-sized medical bills for their pets, more regional blood banks may open, she said.

"Specialists are the ones saying, ‘Hey, we need blood just like people need it,’ " Wardrop said.

Sullivan decided to start his blood bank one night in 2001, when his all-night animal clinic looked like a tragic scene from a hospital drama. Three dogs came in needing blood, two 100-pound dogs and one small corgi. Until then, Sullivan had reduced the number of dogs who died for lack of blood by relying on a pool of 10 or so donors who came in when called.

Sullivan called in six dogs in the middle of the night, and many of their owners came still wearing their pajamas. But six units of blood weren’t enough to save all three patients, and the two bigger dogs died.

"I said, ‘I’m not working here anymore until there is a refrigerator full of blood,’ " Sullivan said. "I cannot tell my clients their pets died just because of a lack of sufficient blood products."

Today, the blood bank has a pool of about 45 donors whose blood is screened for blood type and processed into plasma as it is for humans. Half is used in Whatcom County, either in Sullivan’s clinic or in other area veterinary hospitals. The rest is shipped to the Seattle area, he said.

"We’ve saved five dogs, from Canada to south Seattle, with blood donations," said Sharon Salatino, whose black Labrador retriever, City Boy Roy, has been a blood donor for about three years.

Donors are typically large, mild-mannered dogs between the ages of 8 months and 8 years. Most receive a mild sedative when they donate, Sullivan said, and all receive either health care or grooming services — plus treats — in exchange for donating.

If dogs are frightened by the experience, they’re not good donors, Sullivan said.

"If a donor dog doesn’t come willingly, we retire them," he said.

The clinic also has a few cats on its donor list, but cats typically aren’t as willing to donate blood, Sullivan said.

"If they’re completely intolerant, we don’t even try," he said. "Only cats that allow us to sedate them and do the collection, do we use."

Carrell’s beagle Roxy is recovering from her ordeal.

"Now, she’s back to normal and doing her thing with me, going on walks and going to the dog park." Carrell said.

Only now, Roxy rides in the front of the truck with him, Carrell said.

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