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Blood Donor Dogs Offer Comfort and Convenience at Local Hospital

Hartland Animal Hospital has three universal donor dogs available for emergencies.

Seven years ago, Dr. Martha Watkins of the treated a young rescue dog displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Originally, the young puppy was going to be fostered out after being cared for, but the Hartland vet quickly fell in love with the sweet- tempered pup and decided to keep her.

Eventually, Watkins found out that her new pet Lucy, was not only a friendly and well-mannered dog, but a universal blood donor, as well.

“So she earns her keep,” the doctor joked.

Lucy is now one of three dogs that are on-call for emergency blood transfusions at the small clinic.

With only 40 percent of dogs qualifying as universal blood donors, according to veterinary technician Lindsay Griffin, finding three dogs that fit every requirement is rare.

“We didn’t go out and look for universal donors,” Watkins said. “We just lucked out.”

Following similar rules with blood donations in humans, the dogs at the Hartland location are only able to donate every two months, must weigh more than 50 pounds and be in good health. And although Watkins said there was no set age limit, they prefer not use more mature dogs for the process. 

With Lucy now being 7 years old, Griffin decided to check out both of her own personal pets to see if they would qualify as donors as well. Test results proved that her two American bulldogs, Chex and Echo, were universal donors as well. 

“We’ve had needs for blood transfusions before,” Griffin said. “When we do surgeries like splenectomies (spleen removals), we know they're (dogs) going to lose a lot of blood and they’re anemic to start with.”  

With the three dogs accompanying their owners to work every day, they are available immediately when the need arises, to help.

On average, that need only tends to be a few times a year according to Griffin, however there did come a time when two dogs were needed for emergencies in the same day.

Having the dogs on-site is not only convenient for their clients and saves valuable time according to Griffin, but is also a comfort for owners who have their dogs going in for life-saving surgeries.

“It’s definitely a lot of value to our clients because they know us, the dogs know us, they trust us,” Griffin said. “It means a lot to them to be able to stay here for a major medical procedure instead of shipping them to who knows where.”  

The process of drawing the blood needed from the animal is a three-person job, and although may be uncomfortable, is not painful for the animal, according to Griffin. Having a well-trained dog, however, is crucial since the dog must remain sitting in a certain position until the process is over.  

“All of our dogs just sit there, they don’t mind it at all,” Watkins said. “My dog likes to keep eating cookies when she’s donating.”

Griffin also stresses that the small clinic is not a blood bank and they do not store the blood taken, but use it on as-needed basis to help better serve their clients. 

“For a small clinic, to have three universal donors on-site all the time, as needed … to have that I think is invaluable,” Griffin said. “It’s more affordable, it’s closer and the people already come here – they like coming here.”      

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