Animal Blood Banks:
Saving Dogs' Lives Every Day

Animal blood banks are a critical part of the veterinary industry – and of saving pets’ lives every day.

Imagine that the unthinkable happens. Your beloved dog becomes ill, or suffers a serious injury and requires emergency dog first aid. He needs a blood transfusion – and fast.

animal blood banks greyhound with veterinarian

Chances are you’ve never thought about where that blood would come from. But if an emergency should befall your canine companion, you can bet you’ll think about it then. You will also come to understand the life-saving role that animal blood banks play.

There are a total of six commercial animal blood banks in the United States and Canada, but only one of them – Hemopet – is non-profit. In California, commercial animal blood banks must be licensed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the only state requiring such licensure and annual inspections of animal blood banks.

Hemopet was founded by Dr. W. Jean Dodds in April, 1991. But the seeds were planted close to a decade earlier when Dodds, who was trained in human hematology, ran the blood program for the state of New York and performed non-invasive clinical research on canine hemophilia and other heritable bleeding disorders. It was during this time, in the early 1980s, that she decided to develop what she refers to as a “Red Cross for animals.”

What began as a dream is now an international non-profit animal blood bank that distributes approximately 14,000 half-pints (canine units) of blood throughout North America and Hong Kong every year.

But perhaps the most special aspect of Hemopet is its very special blood donors – Greyhounds that have been rescued from the racing industry.

animal blood banks greyhound wearing blue collar

At any given time, there are about 200 rescued Greyhounds living at Hemopet and performing this life-saving work. And new donors come to live at the facility approximately every three weeks.

But before the Greyhounds can become Hemopet donors, they must undergo a rigorous screening process. First, they are tested to make sure they possess a universal blood type. This is very important, since few veterinarians actually know the blood types of their patients (you would not find this out during a routine blood test) and there are more 14 different canine blood sub-types.

The prospective donors are also screened to ensure they are free of diseases transmissible through blood.

Once the Greyhounds are screened and acclimated to the Hemopet facility, which takes approximately four to eight weeks, they are ready to begin their life-saving work.

As donors, the dogs give a half size unit (a half pint) of blood twice per month for up to one year.

Once the blood is donated, Hemopet functions just like a human blood bank.

First, they process the donated blood to separate it into its key components (plasma and red blood cells) and add special nutrient solutions to prolong its life. After processing, the plasma is frozen and the red blood cells are refrigerated.

The blood is then shipped via overnight delivery to animal blood repositories and individual veterinary clinics located in major cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. Once in these repositories, it is ready to be transported at a moment’s notice to nearby veterinary clinics for use in canine patients.

With the special nutrient solution added, the red blood cells stay fresh for 46 days. The frozen plasma can last for up to five years.

Given the demands for canine blood – especially red blood cells – Hemopet must carefully determine how many units of blood are needed to be stored in each community, based on the size of the community. This takes a great deal of planning and analysis.

More than 50 staff members – including administrative staff, blood bank technicians, adoption staff, and kennel managers and staff– work closely together to keep the Hemopet operation running smoothly.

But the most important members of the Hemopet team are the Greyhound blood donors, who you might even call “guardian angels” for the rest of the canine community. And just as these guardian angels look after other dogs with the blood they donate, Hemopet looks after the guardian angels, making sure that they receive the best of care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

During their time at Hemopet, they are housed in a comfortable, clean environment where they are groomed, well cared for and receive plenty of vigorous exercise and socialization.

They are also taught some practical skills, most notably how to correctly walk up and down stairs, in case their future adoptive home is two stories. After all, you don’t want a Greyhound bounding down the stairs past you or your child!

After the Greyhounds have served as blood donors for a year, Hemopet places them into loving homes. However, even those dogs that haven’t found homes yet are taken off the donor list after one year, and live in foster homes until they find their “forever home”. Hemopet even has a clause in its adoption contract requiring that anyone who can not keep a dog they’ve adopted return him to Hemopet so he can be “re-homed”.

Hemopet is truly a win-win situation for the rescued Greyhounds and the dogs that are saved by the donated blood. And the important role of these “guardian angels” is not lost on Dr. Dodds.

animal blood banks woman sitting with donor Greyhound

She believes that they are so important that she has developed a program called The Ambassadors, which explains to the public that Greyhounds are ambassadors to society, saving the lives of other animals. These extraordinary canines are also “ambassadors” to special needs kids and adults who regularly visit the Hemopet facility to brush, walk and play with the dogs.

And to make sure that these Greyhound “ambassadors” are well spoiled for their good work, Hemopet has also initiated a “Spoilers Club”. Anyone who joins this club is given the right to visit the facility as often as they’d like for 30 days and “spoil” a specific dog or pair of dogs. Not surprisingly, at the end of the 30 days, the “spoiler” sometimes winds up adopting the dogs – which is just fine with Hemopet!

So, if your furry friend ever needs a transfusion, take the time to say “thanks” to those special Greyhounds who provided the life-saving blood – and to Dr. Dodds, the founder and driving force behind Hemopet. And remember just how important animal blood banks are – not only for our canine companions, but also for we humans who love them.

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