A new bill would radically revamp California’s animal blood bank industry by allowing donations from volunteer dogs that live at home with their humans — rather than exclusively from “closed colony” animals that often are kept captive and bled regularly before they’re put up for adoption.
“We can do so much better for the animals in our state,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, who introduced AB 366 on Monday, Feb. 4, in a statement. “California’s pet blood banking system is outdated and inhumane; this bill balances animal welfare and the need for safe, essential animal blood through voluntary, community-based collection methods.”
Dog blood, often required for surgeries and after injuries, is in great demand. Retired racing greyhounds are widely kept to meet this demand, because most have universal blood types that can transfuse into any dog. Critics call the greyhounds “blood slaves.”
Closed colonies have their logic. Donor dogs are carefully screened and isolated to protect them — and their blood — from disease.
“This is a well-intentioned, feel-good bill that sounds great but will have deadly consequences, both in destroying an already-stretched blood supply and a regulatory structure proven to protect blood safety,” said Patricia Kaufman of Animal Blood Resources International.
“This bill says we suddenly are no longer qualified and would make it illegal for us to continue to provide the majority of the dog and cat blood used in the USA today,” Kaufman said. “Suddenly, the blood supply will be cut by more than half, pets will die and veterinary medicine will go back to the days of not providing transfusions.”
Studies have found that isolation isn’t necessary to protect the blood supply, and critics argue that, if the volunteer model works well enough for humans, it can work for pets as well.
Kaufman doesn’t buy it.
“We welcome community blood banks, but only if they can meet the high standards required by the California Department of Food and Agriculture today,” she said by email. “We need more blood supply, but community blood banks have proven for decades that they can supplement but just can’t provide enough blood for the industry.
“If they could, there wouldn’t be a huge shortage with three donor colony blood banks providing approximately 75 percent of today’s blood supply. There just aren’t enough dog owners to fill the need. And the community model for cats is almost impossible.”
2 commercial blood banks targeted
California has just two commercial animal blood banks: the for-profit Animal Blood Resources International, with offices in Northern California and Michigan, and the nonprofit Hemopet in Garden Grove. Together, they provide the overwhelming majority of the nation’s animal blood supply, according to company documents.
Each organization has said that its donor animals are happy, healthy, well-cared for and are adopted to good homes when their service is done.
Hemopet, however, has particularly drawn the ire of activists. In October, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals marched in protest and filed complaints with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Attorney General’s Office and local law enforcement, alleging that many of the 200 or so greyhounds in Hemopet’s closed colony were bled every 10 to 14 days, were not given fluids following the blood draws, were given iron supplements due to the frequency of the draws, and were housed in kennels so small that they could barely turn around for up to 23 hours a day.
Kaufman said the bill actually is about removing regulatory oversight. Now, the CDFA inspects the closed-colony blood banks every year; Bloom’s bill would eliminate that, she said, and there would be no standards beyond having to be a veterinarian to run a blood bank.
“Blood banks need veterinarians working with them, but that is not a requirement to run one,” she said.
Hemopet officials did not return requests for comment on the Bloom bill. But in a Facebook post shortly after the PETA confrontation, CEO Jean Dodds said California requires licensed, closed-colony commercial animal blood banks because they “provide a medically superior and safer blood supply.”
“The safety, efficacy, logistical and cost issues of using volunteer animal blood donors is oversimplified — because they are not screened each time for transfusion-transmitted diseases before releasing the units for veterinary use,” Dodds wrote.
In California, she said, “individual veterinary hospitals are not allowed to operate their own community-based animal blood banks, and can only supply themselves from licensed ‘closed colony’ commercial animal blood banks like Hemopet. They can operate a community-based animal blood bank for their own purposes, but just not distribute or sell these blood products to others.”
Many, however, have had success with volunteer programs such as Bloom’s bill envisions.
About 25 years ago, the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Animal Blood Bank had a well-run closed colony as well, officials said. But after sharp criticism from greyhound rescue groups, Penn closed the closed colony and switched to volunteer donations. Now Penn uses a doggie bloodmobile, where volunteer donor pets can give and go, much as humans do.
“It’s probably easier to go grab a greyhound that’s on-site,” Kym Marryott, manager of Penn’s blood bank, told the Southern California News Group in 2017. “But using a bloodmobile is much less expensive, and makes for a happier donor dog.”
Penn’s RV resembles a cross between a Red Cross bloodmobile and a mobile grooming van. It plies the boulevards weekly, collecting blood from prescreened donor dogs at events organized by kennel clubs and the like.
UC Davis, one of the nation’s top veterinary schools, runs a community blood bank that accepts blood donations from local dogs.
A Florida study found that community-based, volunteer programs were not only feasible, but they were successful.
“Nonprofit, volunteer, community donor programs can provide a safe and reliable blood supply without undue cost burden on the veterinary medical community,” it concluded. “The primary justifications provided for captive donor programs do not appear to be valid, and the implementation and maintenance of such programs should be strongly discouraged in almost all instances.”
Every other state uses a volunteer system for animal blood donations, and they have plenty of blood and more diverse blood, said Shannon Keith, president and founder of the Rescue + Freedom Project, sponsor of Bloom’s bill.
It’s California’s insistence on only using blood from closed colonies that creates a shortage, she said. Now, when there’s an emergency and vets need blood immediately, they can’t always get it. If there was a volunteer system, the turnaround could be much quicker, and lives could be saved, Keith said.
Animal activists who have been working for years to persuade California to change its animal blood banking rules have high hopes.
“I’m overjoyed — I’m speechless,” said greyhound lover Kerry Drozd of Yucca Valley. “It has been three years of work, but finally. Finally.”
Greyhounds are exploited when they spend years in cages at racetracks, and then are exploited again when they’re kept in cages as “blood slaves,” she said.
Bloom’s office said the bill would phase out closed colony blood banks by 2022.
“This is a great step forward,” said Yucca Valley Councilman Jeff Drozd, who has been working on the issue with wife Kerry. “It’s inhumane to confine them after years of racing where they’ve been kept in cages.”
The bill is expected to have its first hearing in March.
Source: Orange County Register