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North Hills Monthly

Four-legged Heroes Save Lives with Blood Donations

Oct 31, 2014 12:52PM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch
In January 2014, as Pittsburgh Police K-9 Officer Rocco lay wounded, fighting for his life at the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center (PVSEC) on Camp Horne Road, caring pet parents all over the area yearned to help in any way they could. While Rocco unfortunately succumbed to his extensive wounds, a positive twist to the sad story played out as animal lovers learned about the need for canine blood donations.

Similar to humans, canine donor blood is needed for victims of traumatic incidents, such as vehicular accidents, as well as for a broad range of diseases like cancer. Patients requiring critical care, like Rocco did, use a lot of blood. While PVSEC staff members are happy to use their own pets as donors, it’s not enough to keep blood supplies at sufficient levels. Jessica Balogh, blood bank coordinator, shared that the need for canine blood is great, as it is for the animals’ human counterparts.

“It’s not possible to make blood. Because of critically ill situations seen in the emergency center, the need is always there,” she said. “Awareness of canine donation is critical, as it is not something most people would think about. In fact, in 2013, 697 units of blood were used to help pets in need.”

Balogh explained that the donation process takes time. “Dogs can’t just come in and donate on the spot. Rather, they have to be screened first and the results of the blood screening take about three to four weeks to come back,” she said. “The initial screening, which is a physical check-up and a small blood draw, however, only takes about 15 minutes.”

If accepted into the program, donors typically give blood every two months and are rescreened once a year. As an incentive, pet owners receive approximately $300 of complimentary blood work, including blood typing and a comprehensive blood screening. Animal donors also receive a complimentary transfusion if it is ever needed. As for the pet owners themselves, they only need to sign a consent form prior to donation, as well as complete a health history form for their animal which includes questions on medical history, vaccinations and overall health.

To donate, dogs must be between one and seven years old and weigh more than 50 pounds. They should be calm and well-behaved, current on vaccines, on flea/tick control medication and heartworm prevention. They must also not have received a transfusion in the past and may not currently be in a breeding program. As with their human donor counterparts, one canine donation can potentially help up to four dogs.

The blood bank is nonprofit and currently has approximately 170 regular donors on their roster. Lawrenceville resident Susan Van Alstine’s four dogs are among the bank’s ‘regulars.’ (Her fifth dog, Max, is too feisty to be a donor right now, or else he would be donating as well.)

When asked why her family is actively involved in the program, Van Alstine shared, “It’s like buying insurance—you never know when you will be in the position to need a blood product, so if you don’t have regular donors who make this a priority, this potentially lifesaving element may not be there.

“I like to pay it forward and hope that someone else is doing the same thing for my ‘kids,’ because you want them to be as well taken care of as you would be,” she added.

Van Alstine went on to stress that the donation process is minimally intrusive and not all that inconvenient. “If more people were aware of it, it could become something that they could do, even if it’s not on a rigid schedule,” she said. “The more donors there are, the more lives that can be saved.”

For more information, visit The Rogan Rexford Animal Blood Bank can be reached at 412-348-2588 or