As an intravenous needle slides into Rowdy’s jugular vein and begins to draw blood, W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M., hugs him tightly and whispers a few soothing words. But if the happy-go-lucky grey-hound is fazed by the four-minute procedure, he doesn’t show it. “He knows a treat is coming,” says Dodds, laughing. And judging by the frantic action of his tail as he scares down the canine cookie, his reward was well worth the donation.
Rowdy is one of about 135 greyhounds–all former racing dogs,–living at Hemopet blood bank in Irvine, CA, while donating blood to help sick canines. “This is more or less a Red Cross for dogs,” explains Dodds, who opened Hemopet in 1991. Thanks to her initiative, countless canines in need of hip replacement, bypass surgery, and other lifesaving procedures can count on healthy, compatible blood transfusions. Shipments are sent out daily around the United States and as far away as Japan.
Dodds, 57, recalls being struck with the idea for Hemopet: “It dawned on me: Dogs have accidents and illnesses the same way people do, and to be properly treated, they also need a safe supply of blood.” Within five years, armed with $250,000 from grants, individual donations, and money Dodds earned from lecturing, Hemopet became a reality. It’s now one of four animal blood banks in the United States, and the only one that’s nonprofit.
But Dodds’s mission goes beyond safe transfusions. The adoption branch of Hemopet, called Pet Life-Line, finds loving homes for greyhound donors who would otherwise have been euthanized after their racing days were over. “Once they can no longer win, they’re out of luck,” Dodds explains. “It’s tragic.”
She’s screened about 1,200 greyhounds to date. Those with an untainted, universal blood type–about 20 percent–join Hemopet; the rest are placed with adoptive families. Doggie donors live at Hemopet for about a year and a half before they, too, are adopted.
Dodds, a lifelong animal lover (“I signed up for veterinary school the second I could”), doesn’t run the bank Alone–there are 23 employees and 50 volunteers on hand to help. Besides feeding, grooming, and walking the dogs, the Hemopet crew provides companionship. “We teach the dogs that it’s okay to cut loose and play,” says senior volunteer Toni Bryant. “We keep ‘em hoppin’.” Dodds’s husband, patent attorney and fellow pooch lover Charles Berman, helps out too.
Dodds encourages families hoping to adopt to drop by on several occasions for some pet bonding time. “But,” she explains, “we’re a little choosy.” She’s not kidding. Candidates must own their own home for have written proof that their landlord allows pets, have a fenced-in yard, complete a five-page application, and even present letters of recommendation. One recent applicant–a former police officer–didn’t cut it. “He wanted a macho clog. I told him, ‘A greyhound’s too soft and gentle for you.’ He was fuming, but we sent him away.”
Despite such high standards, just about every one of the dogs eventually finds a home-even the “ugly muglies.” That’s what Dodds lovingly calls the slightly homely canines. And if it should happen that there’s a pooch no one wants? “Then he has a home with us for life,” she says.