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Donations for a paws, er, cause are crucial for maintaining blood bank for local dogs, cats

Samantha Abrahamson and her dog, Kya, who is a frequent donor to the blood bank in Fargo. David Samson / The Forum1 / 6
Blood bags from Lincoln, a mastiff and universal donor for the Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center in Fargo. Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center / Special to The Forum2 / 6
Photos of blood donors adorn the wall of the Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center in south Fargo. The staff at the facility's blood bank truly believe each donor is a hero. Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center / Special to The Forum3 / 6
Veterinary technician Bethany poses with her golden retriever Kailani, a donor at the Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center's blood bank. Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center / Special to The Forum4 / 6
Mercedes, a Doberman pinscher owned by Carlene Ternes, has donated blood 13 times — enough to add up to a whole gallon. When dogs become gallon donors, Purina provides the dogs with free food. Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center / Special to The Forum5 / 6
Eo (left) and Neut, owned by veterinary technician Sarah, are feline blood donors. They were named after white blood cells. Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center / Special to The Forum6 / 6

FARGO — With a wiggly tail, a boopable snoot and an amount of unconditional love beyond what any human could ever hope to achieve, it's safe to say dogs and cats are the closest things we have to walking, breathing happiness.

But what happens if the door is left open and a driver just doesn't see your little fella or best girl running into the street?

Just like when humans lose too much blood, they might need to get a transfusion.

And for canine and feline companions, blood given in that critical time of need can mean the difference between continuing their life at home with you or moving out to the big farm in the sky.

Blood bank

After issues started coming up with purchasing blood from other blood banks, the staff at Fargo's Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center took it upon themselves to create an in-house blood bank to stock the red gold for regional furry friends in need.

"Before our program, our facility was purchasing blood products from commercial blood banks in the U.S., such as Animal Blood Resources International," says Carlene Ternes, a veterinary technician and manager of the Fargo facility's blood bank.

The local effort launched in June 2018, as issues with back-ordered blood products and high shipping costs made it difficult to continue purchasing from outside sources.

Critically ill veterinary patients with anemia, trauma, cancer and other issues often need blood or plasma — which can be a life-saving treatment.

So how does an animal blood bank work? The secret is in the donors.

"When I see our stock is low, I usually contact owners and schedule the appointment within a week or less," Ternes says.

Donors have lab work done each year to ensure they're healthy and meet the requirements for donations. Their pack cell volume and total proteins are checked and vital signs are taken, and they're ready to give.

"We apply a lidocaine numbing cream to the donor's neck for about 30 minutes so the donors don't feel the poke," Ternes says. "The collection takes about seven to 12 minutes and most dogs are positioned in lateral recumbency (laying down). Almost all our donors will jump onto the donor table willingly. Some wag their tails the entire time, some take a quick nap and some lay quietly as they get pets."

After the donation, a pressure bandage is applied and the furry heroes are given a big bowl of yummy canned food and a goodie bag filled with treats and a toy.

"Our donors come and leave with their tails wagging," Ternes says. "Over the last couple years, we have built great relationships with our donors and owners. The staff love having our donors come in and it brightens everyone’s mood when we see their smiling faces. We have some pretty hard days at the emergency hospital, but seeing healthy, happy pets come in to save other pets quickly changes our mindset. The staff are encouraged to give our donors treats and pets during their stay. They are spoiled for sure!"

Furry heroes

The hospital staff truly believes each pet-turned-donor is a hero. Through the donations they receive, they've been able to save the lives of many sick or injured cats and dogs in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Samantha Abrahamson knows how important it can be. She got her 6 year-old shepherd cross, Kya, typed before the local blood bank was even running.

"We had her typed in case we ever had an emergency come through that needed blood," Abrahamson says. "Before the blood bank opened up, the only way to get blood was from clinics that stored them — so usually the emergency clinic or clinics near the Twin Cities. Pretty much as soon we heard about the program I knew I wanted her to be a donor dog because she has such a good temperament, too, and she loves people and being around people and such."

Kya has donated blood seven times, and Abrahamson says her dog just loves it.

"The second we walk through the doors at the e-clinic, she is so excited to be there, she is so excited to go back with the girls," she says. "I think it's so important because where else do you get blood for sick dogs? It has to come from another dog. So it's just like people where blood donation is such a huge need, it's just good to help out."

Get involved

On Friday, Feb. 28, the blood bank at Red River Animal Emergency Hospital and Referral Center, 4491 23rd Ave. S., is teaming up with Vitalant for a blood drive to help humans and their furry friends alike.

In addition to human donations, the blood bank is doing screening and typing for prospective donor dogs.

While spots in the human portion of the blood drive have filled up, there is still a chance for your canine companion to be screened. The typing and screening begins at 3:15 p.m. and runs through 5 p.m.

Emma Vatnsdal

Emma Vatnsdal is a Features writer, focused on telling stories about people, places and all the interesting things that come along with it. She earned her degree in multimedia journalism from Minnesota State University Moorhead and joined the Forum Communications team in 2018. She grew up in the far north town of Roseau, Minn. and has a thick Minnesotan-Canadian accent. Follow her on Twitter @emmajeaniewenie.

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