Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hounds help other pooches with regular blood bank donations | |

Hounds help other pooches with regular blood bank donations | |

Dexter an 8-year-old black lab is getting ready to donate some blood for other pups. Susan Ruszala, left, a technician at the blood bank, and her assistant Mona Teegarden sedate the big dog. (David B. Hollingsworth | The Virginian-Pilot)
Donor details Dogs must be healthy, at least 60 pounds, on a heartworm preventative, and 1 to 8 years old. Dogs will have a small patch of hair clipped on their neck and receive a short-acting sedative. Blood collection is conducted from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, but other arrangements can be made. Feline donors are also needed. The Southeast Virginia Canine Blood Bank is within Tidewater Veterinary Emergency Hospital & Critical Care, 5425 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach. Call 499-5463 for details.

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By Rita Frankenberry
The Virginian-Pilot
© February 24, 2008

Rocky was a healthy, 90-pound black Labrador.

Man's best friend, as the saying goes.

But Rocky was also a dog's best friend during an emergency.

For seven years, his home was Tidewater Veterinary Emergency Hospital & Critical Care, where he was called into service whenever dogs needed a blood transfusion.

The canine helped countless dogs recover from traumatic injuries and surgeries thanks to his life-giving donations.

"He probably saved more dogs than anyone else, " said Dr. Mark Honaker, a veterinarian who worked at the Virginia Beach clinic for 17 years. "He was, for years, our blood bank - until we had an incidence where we needed blood but we had tapped him dry."

The experience inspired out-of-the-box thinking by Honaker and fellow veterinarian Patti Gahagan. The duo decided the area could benefit from a canine blood bank, which could be used to treat a variety of conditions such as surgeries, traumas, clotting disorders and anemias. The result was the creation of the Southeast Virginia Canine Blood Bank on Virginia Beach Boulevard.

Honaker said the canine blood bank, opened in 1991, is the only privately owned source in Virginia that actually collects and stores blood, and makes it available to canine patients locally. The closest other blood banks for dogs, he said, are in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

"I think in an emergency setting it's vital," Honaker said. "Once you have it and use it, you wonder how you got by without it. You probably lost animals. "

For the past decade, Portsmouth resident Kelly Schmidt has routinely brought her five dogs in to donate blood to the Canine Blood Bank. Schmidt's dogs, three of which are mastiffs, donate twice a year, sometimes sooner than scheduled.

"Whenever they need them, I bring them in," she said. "They help save other dogs' lives. It's a very important program."

Several years after her dogs started giving blood, Schmidt learned firsthand how invaluable their donations are. Yoshi, one of her donor dogs, had a medical emergency and needed a transfusion. The akita's stomach was twisted and it had quickly become a life-or-death situation.

"She bloated and needed 24-hour care," Schmidt said.

Blood bank staff joked that since Yoshi was such a regular donor, she might have received her own blood.

Beach resident Judy Schooley also knows the program's importance. Her dog, Mysha, has polycythemia, a blood disorder that causes the body to produce too many red blood cells. If she doesn't routinely donate to the blood bank - about every six weeks - she could possibly die.

"It's a win-win situation," Schooley said. "They have to get that blood out of there. Your heart will just get to where it just can't pump. She is going to have to give the blood somewhere, somehow, so it might as well be of some benefit."

For the past six years, Chesapeake resident Carol Baumann, has also taken three of her dogs to donate blood. Right now, the only dog she has donating to the program is Snickers, a 70-pound Anatolian shepherd mix.

"I've told people about it, but I don't know if they've taken advantage of it or not," she said.

Bayview Veterinary Clinic employee Pam Foreman learned about the donation program through a co-worker and tells many of her clients and co-workers about it. Now her Great Danes, Nelson and Daphne, donate.

"We try to let our clients know it's out there. They say, 'Oh, I didn't realize dogs got blood transfusions,' " she said.

Donor dogs receive a sedative just before blood is drawn through the jugular vein. Before giving, a blood sample is drawn from the dog's leg to make sure it can safely give.

Donor dogs must weight at least 60 pounds to donate and be 1 to 8 years old. They must be healthy, friendly, on a heartworm preventative, and current on their rabies and distemper shots. They must test negative for heartworms. Dogs meeting the donor requirements will have 450 grams of blood collected no more than twice a year.

"The whole process takes about 20 minutes," said Southeastern Blood Bank veterinary technician Susan Ruszala. "We shave just a little patch on their necks. You have to have as sterile as possible an area, so we have to prep it."

Once the blood is drawn, technicians use a centrifuge to separate it into plasma and packed red blood cells. The two components are stored in blood bags, and the red blood cells are refrigerated for up to 42 days. The plasma, which Ruszala said the clinic tends to go through fairly quickly, is frozen and stored for up to a year.

"We try to keep a stock of four to eight of each," she said.

Whole blood doesn't last as long. If it's needed, a dog donor is usually called in to make an immediate donation.

Since a sedative is administered, technicians will also use the time to clip the dogs' nails or clean its ears as a courtesy. The facility also collects blood from cat s and could use more feline donors, Ruszala said.

The blood bank has 34 cat and 63 dog donors.

Most veterinary clinics use a personal dog such as Rocky for emergencies or order blood products, Honaker said.

"They also make synthetic blood for dogs, but it's not nearly as good as dog blood," he said.

Real dog blood can be ordered, too, but it has a limited shelf life.

"That's the advantage of the blood bank," Honaker added. "You've got it right then."

Rita Frankenberry, (757) 222-5102 or

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