A California statute governing blood-banking programs and transfusions for dogs has flown under the radar for the past 7 years, causing private veterinarians to break a law that they did not know existed.
The issue would still be cloaked in obscurity had it not been for comments that emerged during a recent veterinary seminar at UC Davis.
The statute requires all dog blood used for veterinary purposes to come from a “closed colony facility” — meaning a facility in which dogs live for a set amount of time solely for the purpose of donating blood.
The California Veterinary Medical Association is now beginning to take a close look at the 2010 law, according to Dr. Larry Correia, a veterinarian and a member of the CVMA board.
“The CVMA will be doing some research into this,” he said.
The law, authored by former Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, was approved without a dissenting vote in both houses and signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The goal of the statute, AB 1709, was to improve regulatory supervision over California’s veterinary biologics, shifting primary authority to the federal government.
The final version of AB 1709, however, left the blood-banking and transfusion programs under state control.
The statute requires all dog blood used for veterinary purposes to come from a “closed colony facility” — meaning a facility in which dogs live for a set amount of time solely for the purpose of donating blood. California veterinarians for years, however, have obtained blood for transfusions from other, healthy dogs being treated in their veterinary offices – with the owners’ permission — or from the dogs of their employees.
Under this law, California veterinarians have two options: They must purchase blood from a closed colony commercial blood bank in the state, or they can adopt a dog or group of dogs to live in a veterinary hospital solely for donating blood only to other dogs in that same hospital. But many veterinarians will not use the latter, citing issues of health and humaneness.
Hemopet, however, bleeds only rescue greyhounds, which they adopt after the dogs are retired from racing.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture, or CDFA, is responsible for all oversight of the closed colony commercial facilities in California, which is the only state with these commercial blood banks.
Other states handle canine blood for transfusions at local hospitals and clinics — and those are federally regulated.
Inside California, there are only two commercial blood banks licensed by the CDFA and available for veterinarians.
One of them is Animal Blood Resources International, or ABRI, which is located in Northern California near Dixon, about 25 miles west of Sacramento.
The other is Hemopet, in Garden Grove, about 35 miles south of Los Angeles.
ABRI uses a variety of animal breeds, all previously destined for euthanasia, to provide blood for sales. Hemopet, however, bleeds only rescue greyhounds, which they adopt after the dogs are retired from racing.
Many veterinarians hold dissenting opinions about the 2010 law, in part because they believe it destroys the spirit of the donor dog.
Greyhounds are commonly used for blood donors because most possess a universal blood type, experts say.
A recent seminar resented by Dr. Sean Owens, the Medical Director for the Blood Bank at UC Davis, brought the 2010 law to light for many unknowing veterinarians, according to attendees at the conference.
UC Davis itself, due to the nature of its funding, is not subject to 2010 law and maintains a community blood donor program similar to those for humans and animals in other states.
No system of policing private veterinarians to ensure they are not breaking this law have been in place, but there are strict regulations on how the two colonies are maintained, thanks to an earlier law.
If a blood shortage occurs in a hospital, a veterinarian’s choices are limited.
Many veterinarians hold dissenting opinions about the 2010 law, in part because they believe it destroys the spirit of the donor dog. Many would argue that dogs who live in cages don’t have a quality of life like social, domesticated pets do.
Another concern is that it may prevent the ability for some of the best veterinary care to be administered in emergencies. Veterinarians may not have enough blood on hand to properly handle the numerous emergencies that occur on a daily basis.
If a blood shortage occurs in a hospital, a veterinarian’s choices are limited. The proximity of the two colonies to all veterinary hospitals in the state means it’s not feasible for veterinarians to purchase blood on short notice, which may be needed in an emergency.
That means a patient may not be able to be treated and a fatality may occur as a result.
“We are compromising patient care by trying to adhere the letter of the law at times,” Dr. Kari Moore of VCA Animal Hospitals.
Ed’s Note: Jessica Duncan is a Capitol Weekly intern from the University of Alabama.