Donor Dogs Save Lives

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COLUMBIA - In one of the back rooms of MU's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital live 10 greyhounds who lie down every 21 days to donate a full unit of blood to save another dog's life.  The program is called "Pets Saving Pets."  Pictures of the donor dogs are proudly displayed in the lobby of the hospital.

The hospital uses greyhounds because their blood type is most often compatible with other dog's blood types, said veterinarian Matthew Haight of MU's College of Veterinary Medicine.  There's no such thing as a universal donor for dogs, but greyhounds are the closest to it.

"They're the most docile and just happy to lay around for 23 hours, which makes them great donor dogs," said Haight.

Haight is responsible for choosing the dogs.  Some of the dogs are retired racing dogs, while others come from various breeders.  He tries to find dogs who weigh at least 60 pounds to make sure their bodies can handle the strain of frequent donating. The greyhounds donate for two years before Haight finds someone to adopt them.

Currently up for adoption is Elmo, who had a chance to meet one of the dog's to whom he donated.  Margret is a small Dachshund with an immune disorder. Eventually the 14-year-old's condition was bad enough that she needed a blood transfusion.  The transfusion is what saved Margret's life, said owner Susan Goedde.

When the Goedde family saw the pictures of the donor dogs on the wall, they asked to meet the dog responsible for saving Marget's life.

"Marge was indifferent as usual when she met Elmo, but still, it was pretty cool that we got to meet them," said Goedde.

The Goedde family was referred to the hospital by its vet in Jefferson City. Haight said the hospital gets a lot of referrals for blood transfusions because it always has a ready supply.  Many families come from as far as a few hours away to out of state.

The Lavrarr family brings its dog, Tiger, from St. Louis for his treatment.  Tiger has a rare form of bone cancer which made him unable to create his own red blood cells. Those cells are how the body gets oxygen.

"He would faint, quite frequently, because his body didn't have enough oxygen to carry him around," said owner Deanie Lavrarr.

Tiger needed multiple transfusions while the chemotherapy took effect. After his cancer treatment his body regained the ability to create red blood cells on its own.

Anyone can volunteer to walk the donor dogs or adopt retired donors by contacting the hospital.  Its facebook page can be found here.  The hospital also has six cats who donate to save other cats.