The law aims to collect dog blood from pets in the community rather than in captive colonies
Photo courtesy UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
The University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine operates one of the largest blood banks in the country for dogs, but it only serves patients at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for the time being.
If you ask Dr. Ken Pawlowski, after his plans to set up a community blood bank to meet the utility needs in his area, he ticks off half a dozen expenses: $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 for a commercial refrigerated centrifuge; $ 2,000 for a full size refrigerator; another $ 2,000 for a freezer equipped to hold plasma.
In addition, there are funds for other necessities – bedding, bandages, bags – for collecting, preparing and storing blood as well as a room for storage and distribution. “I also have to look at the cost of the blood test,” Pawlowski mused on the phone. “I didn’t go out and asked, ‘Who wants blood and how much?’ “
Despite the start-up costs, said Pawlowski, the venture “should not cost us more than what we have done so far”.
To date, Pavlovski’s 24-hour veterinary practice near Sacramento, California, has been buying blood products from suppliers who source blood from colonies of caged dogs. But that model could expire in the Golden State under a bill signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 9th.
The California Pet Blood Modernization Act gives California licensed veterinarians the power to open commercial animal blood banks that function like human blood banks in that blood comes from people who live in the community. Pet owners can voluntarily have their animals blood drawn, usually in exchange for services such as health checks and exams.
Pawlowski, who campaigned for the change as the past president of the California Veterinary Medical Association, described the blood supply to dogs in his area as “poor”. He told of a case eight months ago when a veterinarian in his practice removed a mass from a dog who eventually got into a crisis and needed blood. “First it was a unit or two and some plasma,” he said. “But then it got bigger. We collected blood from an employee’s dog and then had to borrow blood from several hospitals. That single case has pretty much drained the blood supply in the Sacramento area.”
When asked why area practices don’t simply keep more supplies, Pawlowski quoted timing, shelf life and costs: “If I buy blood today, I won’t have it for six to eight weeks and the need was sporadic. If I order too much, we have blood that goes bad and it’s expensive. Just eight units can cost $ 1,500. I can’t afford to throw away $ 1,500. “
Many veterinarians avoid commercial providers by sourcing blood for their practice from clinic dogs and cats. And the concept of collecting blood from dogs in the community is not new. There are more than 80 such blood banks in the United States. For a long time California has been alone in demanding that purchased blood be drawn from dogs that live in closed colonies in captivity, where they are bled every few weeks. There are two such businesses in the state: Hemopet, a nonprofit based near Santa Ana; and Animal Blood Resources International (ABRI), a for-profit company based in Dixon.
Proponents of the closed colon model say it provides a reliable and disease-free blood supply. Opponents consider it cruel and out of date.
They hope that the blood banks in closed colonies will voluntarily move on to community collection. ABRI attorney Jeffrey Leacox told lawmakers during a law hearing in July that the company was “neutral” on the bill. Whether this means ABRI is planning the transition is unclear; Neither ABRI nor Hemopet responded to requests from the VIN News Service for comments.
The CVMA cautiously supports the switch to municipal blood banks. The organization wasn’t always on board with the proposal that has been discussed in the state parliament for decades.
The CVMA was concerned that the change would force Hemopet and ABRI to close, and highlighted a tense market in which some practices are already unable to procure the blood they need.
“There is already a shortage,” said Dr. Grant Miller, CVMA Director of Regulatory Affairs. “And we don’t want this law to make this problem worse. We are stepping into an unproven model.”
However, Miller went on to say that the CVMA recognizes that keeping dogs for years to have their blood drawn is a welfare concern and wants the community’s blood banks in the state to be successful.
“We support change when closed colonies can be safely removed,” he said. “Can community banks sustainably and safely produce the same amount of blood and blood products? [as ABRI and Hemopet]? Veterinarians need to get on their feet and power up the product so we can find out. “
For the reforms of the new law to take effect, community banks must produce the same amount of blood and blood products sold in the state by closed colony banks as reported to the state Department of Food and Agriculture licenses and controls commercial animal blood banks. If this future data shows community blood banks reach or exceed production for four consecutive quarters, then closed colony collectors will have 18 months to change their business model or shut down.
But first, the state must count how much whole blood, packed red cells, and freshly frozen plasma are being made by closed colony operators for use in California, and report that information to lawmakers and the California Veterinary Medical Board starting March 1 (animal blood banks have been in place since 2002 exempted from the California Public Records Act.)
Veterinary practices considering establishing a community blood bank for dogs include the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which operates a spay / neuter clinic and full-service animal hospital and animal shelter.
The establishment of a blood bank is not a new concept for the SF SPCA. The nonprofit once bought equipment to run a blood bank before realizing it wasn’t legally possible in California. That was over a decade ago, and the equipment was being sold. “So it didn’t matter that much until this bill was tabled,” said Brandy Kuentzel, SF SPCA senior vice president of advocacy and public policy. “But we’re definitely interested.”
It is not yet clear whether and how the SF SPCA could participate.
“We do so much veterinary care that it would make sense for us,” said Küntzel. “We’re just not sure if it’s financially viable and able to deliver a significant volume outside of our own operations.”
The organization is awaiting best practice guidelines from the Department of Food and Agriculture to aid in their assessment.
Already in business is the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, home to one of the largest community blood banks in the United States. The UC Davis Veterinary Blood Bank collects a range of blood products from dogs, cats, sheep, goats, cows, pigs and horses. “On average for dogs, we have about 600 units per year, which is about three-quarters of the blood bank’s inventory, said Dr. Steven Epstein, director of the operation. He estimates that half of the blood donating animals belong to members of the veterinary school community.
The blood is used in the veterinary teaching hospitals, where 800 to 1,000 transfusions are performed annually. The bank does not sell the product commercially.
In the past, UC Davis officials have signaled that they would consider making blood and blood products available for sale to third parties if it were legal. Now that blood banks in the community are licensed – even sponsored – by the state, UC Davis’ operation could expand in scope.
“There are many complexities and advantages and disadvantages,” said Epstein. “We look at the logistics and the required space and new equipment. We want to take that into account.”
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