Clinic now offers canine blood transfusions

K.t. McKee
Photo courtesy of JOY ORR

WASILLA -- Joy Orr's "sick little girl," Gracey, probably would have bled to death if she hadn't received plasma from donated blood.

And Diana Brown's 7-week-old "baby," Pennie, also probably wouldn't have survived her blood disorder if she hadn't gotten a blood transfusion.

Both Valley residents are grateful for the generosity and sacrifice of those who contribute to Alaska's first canine blood bank at Far Country Animal Hospital in Palmer.

Come again? A blood bank for dogs?

"I didn't even realize there was such a thing until I took our Tibetan terrier, Gracey, to the Far Country clinic when she began pooping blood," said Orr, who happens to work with human blood as a nurse at Alaska Oncology and Hematology in Anchorage.

"She would have died if they hadn't given her the plasma. She's been in our family for eight years. I'm so glad they have that service up here."

Brown, a retired nurse, said she had read about greyhounds donating blood, but she didn't know until her new pug puppy, Pennie, became ill that a blood transfusion was possible in Mat-Su.

She was suddenly faced with a heart-wrenching choice when she was told that Pennie's heart might not be strong enough to survive the procedure.

"They asked me if I would want them to do CPR on her or just let her go, and I said to let her go because I thought she'd just be sick for the rest of her life if I didn't," said Brown. "But the minute she got the blood, she was so much better and she's in great condition now."


Gracey and Pennie are among 29 lucky recipients of blood bank products provided by the veterinary clinic across from Colony High School in the past two years.

They owe it all to the efforts of one Wasilla woman, Nicole Baston, a vet technician who convinced the clinic to establish its own blood bank when it opened four years ago.

"I saw the expense of getting blood products from out of state and I was frustrated with not being able to provide more affordable options for complicated procedures that required blood transfusions," said Baston, who now commutes to an Anchorage vet clinic. "My Great Danes had been donating blood already when I worked at other clinics, but there wasn't an established local blood bank."

The difference in cost between relying on canine blood from a large facility in California and having a local source can be more than $200 for every 500 milliliters, Baston said.

Baston said her current clinic, Diamond Animal Hospital, still relies on blood from California because it handles a higher volume of emergency cases requiring blood transfusions.

"We've done 38 transfusions of blood or plasma just since January because we're open 24/7," she said.

Still, desperate dog owners at Far Country Animal Hospital will spend an average of $450 per transfusion, plus pay for lab tests, medications, boarding costs and other expenses that can amount to more than $1,000, said Cassandra Grennan, Far Country office manager. "That's why we preach, preach, preach getting pet insurance," Grennan said Monday.


One way dog lovers can help defray vet costs, Grennan said, is to consider having their dogs become blood donors. The clinic has 25 donor dogs and would like at least 50, she said.

To qualify, donors must have universal blood type DEA 1.1 negative, weigh at least 50 pounds, be in good health and have a gentle enough temperament to withstand having a needle in its jugular vein for 20 minutes.

Rewards include getting more than $300 worth of blood testing, exams and other services for their dogs at no charge each year and receiving a special "Canine Hero" bandana and identification tag.

They also will receive one-half liter of blood or plasma free if they ever need it.

To Wasilla resident Sandy Wojtascek, however, knowing she and her Australian cattle dog, Hank, are helping save the lives of other dogs is reward enough for donating his blood.

"We love to brag about him being a donor, and he really loves going into the clinic," she said. "It's a great thing."

Contact K.T. McKee at 352-6711.