Canine Blood Donations
By Ed Felker
It’s the third Thursday of the month and Scandal, an eight-year-old retired foxhound, knows the drill.
He sits on the scale and watches as the vet techs record his weight and vitals. He doesn’t move as they shave a patch on his neck to take a blood sample, and is relaxed as he is helped onto a table. The techs help him lie down, and he stretches out his neck and shuts his eyes. Some numbing cream is applied so he doesn’t feel the pinch of the needle. Scandal is donating blood, and his blood is special. In just a few minutes he will have given about two cups of it, enough to potentially save up to four other dogs.
The donation event put on this day by the North American Veterinary Blood Bank (NAVBB) takes place at the kennels of the Snickersville Hounds in Middleburg. There aren’t many veterinary blood banks in the country, and NAVBB began its mission to help keep up with the ever-growing demand for canine blood products in this area and beyond. “There has always been a shortage of canine blood products, but the pandemic has created a critical shortage,” Casey Mills of NAVBB said. “We prioritize supplying local veterinarians with the blood products they need, but we will ship blood to any vet who has a dog in need.”
Two years ago NAVBB reached out to kennel huntsman Gale Rives Cayce about getting involved. Cayce, who is responsible for the care and maintenance of Snickersville’s foxhounds, was eager to learn how the hunt could help.
“The blood bank usually relies on individuals bringing their companion canines to the blood bank’s location for volunteer donations,” Cayce said. “With such a growing need for blood donations for veterinary facilities and veterinary emergency hospitals, they were exploring other possible avenues of collecting larger amounts of blood donations.” With many hounds at one location, NAVBB could come to the kennels and obtain multiple donations at once, all at one location, and could repeat the effort on a regular basis.
Not all canines are ideal candidates for donating blood – some of the criteria include weight, age, overall health and temperament – but NAVBB screened the Snickersville pack and identified several potential hound donors. A few, like Scandal, are particularly important as they have a rare universal blood type.
Canines have 12 blood types, and are tested for Dog Erythrocyte Antigens (DEA). Dogs such as Scandal who are universal donors have a DEA 1 Negative blood type. “Scandal is one of very few hounds who has this blood type,” Mills said. “His special blood type and amazing temperament make him an outstanding donor.”
Scandal and his four littermates were bred and raised at the Snickersville kennels and proved to be a wonderful group of foxhounds with good size, great noses, fantastic voices, and a great work ethic. “Scandal himself was very instrumental in the hunting process,” Cayce said. “He was always true to the correct line, was respected by his pack mates, and his finds were always honored.” But a badly injured hind flexor tendon cut short his hunting career last season.
“He would never have been able to come back to the hunting field without suffering more damage and a severe reduced quality of life,” Cayce said. So the search began for a new loving home for him. She reached out to Katrina Balding Bills, member and Honorary Secretary of the Snickersville Hounds. Bills immediately thought of her sister, Nicole Balding Roca, who agreed to meet Scandal. Roca remembers thinking, “Let’s see how this goes and make a decision after we see how he transitions.” But in her heart she knew this retired hound had already started his second life on her farm, in her care. She brought him home, and he transitioned being her hound and to farm life “like butter.”
Cayce mentioned the blood bank and that she’d love if Scandal could continue as he was an important donor. “We lost a great hound when he got injured, but we found the perfect retirement home for him,” Cayce said. “Nicole has done a great job in letting him heal, and providing a great job for him being a farm dog companion.” Now he has it all, and shares his special blood type each month to help save others of his kind. “He’s a true hero hound, and one of my all-time favorites,” Cayce beamed.
Roca is happy to continue Scandal’s important work. She said he is easy to work with and knows the routine. And all the hounds that donate absolutely love the attention from the blood bank staff, who have become their friends.
Just this year, Scandal and the Snickersville Hounds have helped save the lives of more than 230 dogs in need. “It’s very gratifying to be able to help veterinary facilities in our region, to have the ability to save lives,” Cayce said. “Our hounds are very special to us, and we know how special dogs are to their owners, especially in times of need.”
No one likes to think about something unpleasant as a veterinary emergency. But with few blood banks and dog owners not realizing their dogs could be a blood donor hero, blood supplies are limited. “We try to educate our community to let them know programs like this exist,” Mills said. “After all, if your dog was ever in need of a blood transfusion, you would want to know blood is available to save your pet!”
“I’ve never had a dog need blood in an emergency, but I do think about this a lot,” Roca said. “When I watch the bag fill with blood, it’s a remarkable feeling to know that bag is full of what keeps us all alive.”
Helping out ; NAVBB relies on the generosity of donors. To learn more or find out how your dog can become a blood donor hero, visit navbb.com