Battle over ‘blood slave’ donor dogs in California pits veterinarians vs. veterinarians
In a blood fight that pits veterinarian against veterinarian, scores of vets are urging the Legislature to follow the lead of other states and outlaw “closed-colony” animal blood banks in California by 2022.
“The current situation in California is egregiously unbalanced,” says the letter. “Hundreds of dogs — including many who have already endured months or years of suffering in the greyhound racing industry — are kept confined for months or years in situations that range from inadequate to appalling. Lack of sufficient oversight and inspection coupled with a lack of transparency has resulted in years of suffering by dogs in California’s closed colonies.
“There is no public appetite — nor compelling veterinary necessity — for continuing this model, however much effort could go into reforming them. We have a tested, viable alternative that is fundamentally sounder at balancing the interests of all affected parties, canine and human alike.”
The letter was signed by 63 vets, including professors at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, and others from around California, including Los Angeles, Burbank, Pasadena, Orange Laguna Hills, Laguna Niguel and other cities.
California’s commercial blood banks provide most of the blood and related products that America’s veterinarians use for Fluffy and Fido’s life-saving surgeries and transfusions. The battle mounting here over captive donors, or what critics call “blood slaves,” affects animal welfare nationwide.
A hearing on Assembly Bill 366, by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, was slated for Wednesday, March 27, before the Assembly Agriculture Committee, but that hearing has been rescheduled for April 10.
Proceed with caution
The California Veterinary Medical Association opposes the bill, according to a letter sent to the committee.
“The CVMA continues to have concerns with the intent of the bill to close the colony-based blood banks in California and replace them with the community-based model,” it says. “This could jeopardize the source for all animal blood and animal blood products for the veterinary practices in the state.”
AB 366 would also remove the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s authority to inspect commercial blood banks, which it considers important to maintaining the health of the blood supply and animals alike, the letter said.
California has just two commercial animal blood banks — the for-profit Animal Blood Resources International, which has offices in Northern California and Michigan, and the nonprofit Hemopet in Garden Grove, which has drawn the ire of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 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. Animal Blood Resources International is opposed to the particulars of this bill but is open to the idea of community blood banks, it said in a letter of opposition.
Hemopet officials did not respond to requests for comment, 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.
Vets at UC Davis dispute that contention.
Community blood bank success
Thirteen years ago, the vets told legislators, UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine transitioned from a colony-based blood bank into an entirely volunteer-based, community donor blood bank.
“Since then, it has grown into a thriving and reliable program with more than 600 donation appointments each year. Dogs are examined both physically and behaviorally and are prescreened for infectious diseases to determine whether they qualify as blood donors,” the vets told legislators in the letter.
Standards set by the American Association of Blood Banks govern UC Davis’ veterinary blood donor program, and it adheres to American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine recommendations for donor screening.
“In addition to routine physical examinations and diagnostic testing, donor animals receive flea, tick, and heart worm medication at no cost. As a result, this program not only safeguards animal health, but also helps alleviate financial constraints that make it challenging for owners to provide optimal preventative health care for their pets.”
Scott Horner, CEO and owner of Animal Blood Resources International, said some of those who signed the letter “do not have an informed opinion on the bill and do not necessarily represent the position of the institutions they work for.”
“We are not, and have never been, opposed to community programs as long as they adhere to the same product safety and donor care regulations that have been established for many years,” Horner said by email.
Lennon and Skipper
At a news conference in Sacramento on Wednesday, March 27, Bloom and co-authors Assemblywomen Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, and Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, were upstaged by Lennon and Skipper.
The two greyhounds were adopted from Hemopet by folks from the Rescue + Freedom Project in Los Angeles, a sponsor of the bill, who asserted that the dogs were bled too often and had experienced trauma confined to small cages.
“California is the only state in the country to rely on this archaic and cruel practice,” Petrie-Norris said. “That’s astonishing to me. Shocking and shameful. We can and must do better.”
AB 366 has been dubbed “Lennon’s Law” in the dog’s honor, said Shannon Keith, president of Rescue + Freedom Project.
Horner, of Animal Blood Resources International, bristles at such charges.
“The idea of California’s laws being archaic is completely false,” he said. “California has the most progressive regulation in the US related to animal blood and has provided for the largest and safest supply in the U.S. (and quite possibly the world).”
Bloom remains optimistic that the differences can be bridged. The human blood donation system is 100 percent volunteer, and there’s no reason that an animal blood donation system can’t be as well.
“California is a world leader in its humane policies and treatment of animals,” Bloom said. “It’s time for us to modernize and make more humane our treatment of these animals, and that’s what this bill is all about.”