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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – For the most part, they’re living the retired life, napping through the day, taking morning and afternoon walks and welcoming visitors.
These retired race dogs do have one important job, though: Every three weeks or so, they donate a pint of blood.
Meet the Pets Saving Pets team at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The group of greyhounds along with feline counterparts donates the blood needed to save other animals that come to the college’s teaching hospital with serious health problems.
Susan Goedde’s 14-year-old dachshund, Margaret, was one of those sick pets. The dog developed a red blood cell disorder, and her veterinarian in Jefferson City referred Goedde to MU, where Margaret recently received a blood transfusion.
“Without a blood transfusion, she probably would not be alive,” Goedde said.
She was so impressed with the hospital and the program that she asked to meet Elmo, the dog who saved her pet’s life.
The dogs are former racing greyhounds, animals that are sometimes euthanized when they’re finished with their racing careers. Instead, these dogs are donated to MU, where they’re used for as long as two years and then adopted.
During their time at MU, they stay in roomy cages that have beds and toys. Students and volunteers walk them at least twice a day.
Greyhounds are the “perfect dogs” to donate blood for several reasons, said Leah Cohn, a veterinary medicine professor who runs the blood bank. First, the breed is considered a universal donor. Although dogs have a wide range of blood types, greyhounds have a higher count of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that matches other types, Cohn said.
They also are large, muscular dogs, so it’s easy for them to donate a unit. On top of that, greyhounds “have a great temperament,” Cohn said. “They’re docile animals, happy to cooperate. They don’t have to be held down.”
And if a specific canine isn’t happy about donating blood once it gets to MU, staff will adopt it out instead of using it, said Matt Haight, a senior veterinary technician. “If they’re miserable, it’s not worth it,” he said.
Cat blood donors also have a room in the hospital with climbing features and toys. Unlike dogs, cats have two blood types, Type A being the most common. Purebreds and rare breeds tend to be Type B, so MU keeps at least one of them in the program, Cohn said. The cats must meet a certain weight minimum and typically donate on an as-needed basis. They also are up for adoption after a year or so.
To introduce the animals to the public and help spread the word when one is ready to be adopted, the veterinary hospital recently launched a Facebook page, Blood Donors of MU CVM. The page has photos of the dogs and when they’ll be up for adoption.
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