Bloody Good Doggy Deeds

I am the proud mother of a strapping 25-year old son. To look at him now you would never believe that when he was a toddler he was ill – very ill. He developed a blood-clotting disorder, with a very long name, when he was 18 months old. A nightmare of bruising, nose bleeds and just plain fear. There was a time when he required platelets, the transfusion of which took him off the critical list and gave us hope.

And here’s the thing. Those platelets were available. They were delivered to the hospital within a very short space of time, because there were stocks available from the blood bank.

But what happens if your dog needs a transfusion of blood? Have you ever wondered about that?

Monday morning is not a good time to take a dog to the vet. Every single pet that got even slightly sick over the weekend is there, waiting to see the doctor and the queue is long. But I had no choice. I had returned from Canada over the weekend and found that the men in my life, who had provided fabulous care for the dogs while I was away, had not had their eyes completely focused on the ball. It happens. Whilst she had been taken to the vet for her skin condition, our Maltese had a raging ear infection and although they had smelt it, they figured she’d been rolling in something. This needed action, first thing on Monday. So, there I was. Horrendously jet lagged, sitting patiently in the queue. Somehow in my decrepitude, I became aware of a poster asking for doggy blood donors.

I have, for a long time, been aware that sometimes dogs are in need of blood transfusions for many reasons, but had not ever really thought about where that blood might come from. My husband and I would both have liked to have given blood, particularly because the generosity of others helped our son when he needed it. I was born with a minor heart defect and my husband has had a malignant tumour, so the blood bank don’t want our blood and I’ve always felt quite sad about that. But why not help dogs instead? We have two perfectly healthy Boxers (that weigh over 25 kg, which is the minimum requirement) and if they can save a life or two by donating their blood, it has to be the right thing to do. I made arrangements there and then, and this morning I took them to do their bit for their fellow canines.

It was such an enriching experience and I need to tell all dog-lovers about it.

On arrival, my two reprobates were taken into the consulting room for a health check. Their temperatures were taken (that was the undignified part – they never look happy when they have thermometers up their bottoms), their hearts were listened to and a bit of blood was taken for testing – just to make sure that they had no infections and that all of their levels of red cells, white cells, etc. were as they should be. That over, they were sedated and slowly wandered off into the arms of Morpheus. The two of them sleeping on the floor of the consulting room was a rare sight, they are mad Boxers after all.

At that point I popped out to fill my car with petrol and by the time I got back it was all done, they were waking up. We left there with a bag of dog treats, a complimentary flea and tick treatment, and a little list of what we need to look out for – that they shouldn’t have too much exercise on the day of donating, that they should have access to plenty of water, that they should be given a slightly larger meal than normal and that we should not put pressure on the donation site in their necks.

So simple, all it took was time – an hour at most and that included driving to the surgery. The only side effect was that for a few hours they looked like they had spent the morning boozing it up in a roadside shebeen, because of the sedation. You might be able to persuade some breeds to lie still for long enough to donate blood, but never a Boxer. Sedation was a must.

My motivation for offering my dogs as blood donors was utterly altruistic. As things turned out, I came to the realisation there is another, equally important, reason.

All dogs are special (I long ago decided that dogs are superior to humans) but every now and then you have a dog that has something extra, something that makes him stand out from every other dog you’ve had. Neville, my male Boxer, is one of those dogs. He has a temperament that is, out of all the Boxers I’ve had the privilege to have in my life, quite unique. There is not an aggressive bone in his body, no malice, just mischief. A gentle, soppy giant with spades full of idiot factor.

When his initial blood sample was taken the test said that his haemocrit level was higher than it should be. It was explained to me that this could be for a number of reasons. That he could have a heart condition, that possibly his kidneys are not working as well as they should, that maybe there is a tumour developing or – the least sinister – that he was just excited about his trip in the car and that he had been pumping out too much adrenaline. I was told that they would do a full blood screen and, by doing that, they would be able to make a determination.

I went home feeling uneasy but, at the same time, knowing that if there was something sinister it would be picked up. That by catching whatever it was at an early stage, he could probably be treated more effectively. That by offering up his blood to help other dogs, it could well mean that he might be helped too.

I had not thought of that.

It turned out that by the time he was sedated he had obviously calmed down. When the full screen was done on the blood that was taken, the haemocrit levels had dropped to normal. It probably had something to do with his excitement. I was relieved, of course I was, but it made me more determined that they should continue to donate regularly. The blood they donated today will potentially save the lives of four dogs. Selfishly on my part, because they are put through a thorough check, if their health becomes compromised in any way it will be found earlier than it might otherwise have been. Everybody wins.

The donated blood is used in a variety of ways. Apart from obvious things like accidental injury and surgery, the plasma is transfused for a long list of illnesses – to boost the immune system – and platelets are used to counteract the effects of rat poison. As much as seventy percent of donated blood is used in the treatment of biliary and it is also used to treat parvo-virus. Like humans, dog blood comes in a variety of groups – apparently 13 – but the main thing that would determine a match is the rhesus factor, whether the blood is positive or negative. Until fairly recently, there were no facilities for storing blood and if a transfusion was needed, a dog had to be found to donate blood on the spot. In addition to that, the machinery needed to separate the various blood products was not readily available. But now it is and the donated blood is available to dogs all over KZN. Currently they have about 30 doggy donors, but would welcome a whole lot more.

An hour or two of your time every three months or so, a thorough health check for your beloved dog and two dogs’ lives potentially saved for every donation that your dog makes?

Think about it.