Animal donors like Larry the Newfoundland dog save lives

Closeup of Sarah Huston posing with her dog, Larry.
Larry, a Newfoundland, is shown with his owner, Sarah Huston, a licensed veterinary technician at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Larry is a regular donor at the veterinary hospital’s blood bank.

Larry is the typical Newfoundland dog – big, cuddly, and friendly.

He is a social butterfly and is always up for a tasty treat, napping, or swimming.

He also loves his frequent visits to Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where, whether he knows it or not, he is saving the lives of other dogs as a volunteer blood donor.

“Everybody at the veterinary hospital knows his name and wants to give him attention,” said Sarah Huston, who is Larry’s owner, best friend, and a licensed veterinary technician at the hospital. “I don’t know if he knows he is the life-saver he is, but he knows he is doing good stuff when he goes to the hospital.”

Since the donor program began more than three decades ago, the veterinary hospital’s blood bank has made it possible to perform thousands of transfusions and save the lives of countless dogs and cats.

“Last week, we probably would have had two patients die without using blood,” said Dr. Jane Wardrop, director of the blood bank and the veterinary hospital’s Clinical Pathology department. “It would be very sad to not be able to supply these animals with what they need. This program saves lives. It really does.”

Wardrop typically works with a team of four veterinary students and a donor base of 20 dogs and a handful of cats. The students are trained to manage donors and handle collections and processing.

Each hopeful volunteer must go through a litany of tests to ensure it is healthy and that it has the proper temperament. Dogs must be 1-6 years old, weigh at least 60 pounds and be able to lie still on a table for 10 minutes while blood is being collected. Cats, which are sedated during collections, must be 1-6 years old and weigh at least 10 pounds.

Pet owners are asked to commit to the program for at least two years. Dog volunteers typically make donations every two months, while cats can donate every three months.

“We want dogs that are happy to come here, that look forward to it, that wag their tail when they go in that transfusion room,” Wardrop said. “They get a lot of praise and belly rubs – stuff you wouldn’t do with a person giving blood.”

In addition to knowing their pet is saving the lives of other dogs and cats, pet owners also get a handful of perks, including free Purina dog or cat food thanks to the program’s longstanding partnership with Nestlé Purina PetCare.

“Purina has been gracious enough to provide their food for donors in our program, and we can’t thank them enough for their partnership and help with this program,” Wardrop said.

Avi Shaprut, veterinary communications manager at Nestlé Purina PetCare, said Purina is proud to have the opportunity to provide high-quality food to donors.

“These owners have committed their pets to serving a higher purpose in providing lifesaving blood to help other pets survive during times of dire need,” Shaprut said. “Our Pro Plan diets provide protein and nutrients to help these heroes thrive and be able to donate again at a suitable time. As such, this now longstanding partnership with this impactful program just makes sense.”

The food is just a small thank you to the blood donors and their owners who make such a difference.

“A lot of our critical care and emergency patients,” Huston said, “they wouldn’t go home to their families without these life-saving donations that our blood donors provide.”

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