My dog Otis is a super hero.
Really. He saves lives.
It’s possible that your dog could also be a super hero.
If your pup is healthy and over 40 pounds, between 1 and 7 years old, and loves to be snuggled and get treats, it might be time for you to buy him his cape.
Otis is a blood donor for the largest VOLUNTEER (this is important, we’ll come back to it) blood bank in the nation. Conveniently, it’s located in Purcellville, just an hour’s drive away from us. (but they have 12 other locations).
When Otis was an 8-week-old puppy, that same blood bank saved his life after he, and his littermates were struck with parvo. Hopefully, you don’t know personally the horror of parvo, but it is a gastro-intestinal virus that is highly contagious and claims the lives of too many puppies every year. It’s the reason your puppy needs so many shots and why you should be careful where you take your puppy until he is fully vaccinated (two weeks after his third shot).
Otis and his seven siblings came down with parvo four days after arriving at my house as foster puppies. It was a nightmare of grand proportions and if you’re up for a good horror story, you can read about it here.
As part of his treatment at the Blue Ridge Veterinary hospital, he was given plasma. Without it, he would have perished (as four of his littermates did).
At the time, I had never considered that dogs need blood, just like people do. I had also never considered where that blood came from.
Dogs need blood as a result of car accidents, surgeries, other emergencies, and situations like parvo treatment. It’s a matter of life and death, and often the cost of the blood or its availability plays a part in who lives and who dies.
Until voluntary canine blood banks began opening up, vets had to scramble to find a willing donor in the midst of an emergency or they bought blood from one a handful of involuntary blood banks where dogs were kept for the purpose of harvesting their blood.
These involuntary blood bank operations still exist – the largest is in California, where they use retired greyhounds. The dogs are kept for months or years and then offered for adoption. I have to wonder if a dog that has been a racing dog and then kept in what amounts to a shelter for an extended period, is a very adoptable dog.
Thankfully, California passed a law in 2021 that will force involuntary blood banks to close once the voluntary blood banks in the state can provide enough canine blood for four consecutive quarters. (Which means if you live in CA, you really ought to investigate the potential of your own four-legged super hero.)
By creating a voluntary blood bank, Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank (and others) are quite literally saving lives – the lives of the patients who receive the blood and the lives of dogs who are not forced to live in shelters to have their blood harvested.
Like all blood banks, human and canine, there is a shortage of donors (especially at the holidays). Like me, many people I’ve talked to weren’t aware of their dog’s life-saving power.
There are a lot of perks to being a donor. The process is one Otis enjoys (as evidenced by the way he reacts upon arrival at the Blood Bank, leaping for joy and handing out copious kisses to staff).
Each session takes about fifteen-twenty minutes. During that time, he is checked out by Dr. Valerie Latchford, phlebotomist/veterinarian, before the blood donation begins. The entire time he is held and cuddled by Chris, his professional dog snuggler (YES -wouldn’t that be THE best job in the world) and fed copious treats.
I receive a copy of his blood work (including a 4dx test), plus the reassurance of a veterinarian monitoring his health every eight weeks when he donates. For his part, Otis gets his time with Chris, plus a bag of high-quality treats after each donation, which is pay enough for him.
If Otis ever needs blood again, we don’t have to pay for that blood. (And having put his front paws through a glass window once already, that doesn’t seem like an unlikely scenario.)
Add to all that, there is the incredible satisfaction I feel at knowing Otis is paying it back and paying it forward. His life was saved for a reason – maybe this is it.
I’ve made saving dogs my mission, so Otis’ work is a natural extension of that mission. He truly is a super hero.
And your dog could be too. If you’d like to find out, visit the website for a prescreening. There are 13 donation sites in Virginia and Maryland. And if you’re in south central PA (in my old neck of the woods), there is a donation site in Westminster, MD, which is an easy drive away.
Visit Blue Ridge Veterinary Blood Bank’s website to find out how your dog can be a super hero too. And if you’re not in the VA/MD area, visit to find out if there is a blood bank near you. If there isn’t, ask your local vet if you can be an ‘on call’ donor if they need one. Sadly, until supplies are sufficient, that’s still how many dogs in critical conditions receive their blood.
I hope someday, there are enough voluntary donors, that no dog will have to be kept in a shelter situation for the purpose of harvesting its blood. To me that feels wrong on so many levels. And like the dogs who suffer in our nation’s shelters, I’m fairly certain the problem isn’t that we don’t care, but that we don’t know it’s within our power to stop it.
Until Each One Has a Home,
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com.
If you’d like regular updates of all our foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips, and occasional foster cat updates (!) be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org and subscribe to our blog where we share stories of our travels to shelters, rescues, and dog pounds.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs. Or its follow up that takes you to the shelters in the south One Hundred Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.