Ms Russ Tay found out from her veterinarian last May that her 15-year-old shih tzu, Mickey, had a low blood count and would not last more than two to three days without a blood transfusion.
She searched online and contacted animal welfare groups. But by the end of the first day, no owner had volunteered his dog for a blood donation.
Unlike in Britain and the United States, there is no animal blood bank here.
Not wanting Mickey to suffer, the 34-year-old project administrator was prepared to put her dog down. But on the morning of the second day, she got a call from Ms Deirdre Goh, 47, a member of the Golden Retriever Club.
Ms Goh's golden retriever donated blood to Mickey and saved its life.
Four clinics, including The Animal Doctors and Mount Pleasant Animal Medical Centre (Redhill), told Life! that the need for transfusions arise an average of once to twice every month or every two months. It could even be as often as once a week.
Blood transfusions are needed when an animal loses too much blood in cases such as traffic accidents or complications during a surgery. They may also be required in cases of liver failure, tick fever and haemorrhage.
Since there is no blood bank to rely on, the onus of finding a donor for a sick or injured dog usually lies with its owner.
And the search can be painstaking, and even fruitless, because people often have the misconception that blood donation is harmful for animals. According to vets, there is little risk involved in the process. Sedation is used to prevent the animal from moving too much and becoming stressed during the donation.
Dr Christopher Tham, senior veterinarian at Jireh Veterinary Clinic, says: "In Singapore, one challenge we face is the myth that sedating animals during the collection is dangerous. An adverse reaction to a sedative is very rare and there are warning signs that can be addressed early before such a reaction escalates."
Dr Jean Paul-Ly, director of the Animal Recovery Centre group, says: "It is unfortunate that we still have such a retrograde mentality towards pet blood donation. There is a shortage and we need donors."
To deal with this shortage, Animal Recovery Centre relies on a pool of about 30 people, including its own staff, who regularly volunteer their pets for blood donation. Among other criteria, veterinarians recommend that canine donors should be at least 25kg, while feline donors should be at least 4kg. Breeds that fall into this weight range include golden and labrador retrievers as well as huskies.
Donor animals should be between two and eight years old. The donor animals have to go through blood tests to ensure they are free of diseases such as heartworm and tick fever. Their blood type also has to match the recipient animal. According to Dr Tham, feline blood types are divided into three groups: A, B or AB. Canine blood groups are categorised into two major types, positive and negative.
Depending on the weight of the animal, up to 10 per cent of the body weight of the animal is usually drawn. The collection takes 15 to 30 minutes.
Dogs and cats should not donate blood more than once a month. Vets recommend a rest period of two to six months which varies depending on factors such as the health and size of the animal.
A blood transfusion usually costs from $500 to more than $1,000, including the tests, collection and transfusion of blood.
Animal welfare organisations such as the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals and Action For Singapore Dogs do not have a policy of providing blood from its shelter animals.
Executive director of the Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals Corinne Fong, 50, says: "Our shelter animals are healthy and have been vaccinated, but a lot of them were strays and we do not have their full medical history. We do not want to risk transferring any diseases to the recipient animal.
"The best source of blood is owners' pets because they would have more thorough medical records of their pets."
Action For Singapore Dogs president Ricky Yeo, 45, says: "Generally, we do not allow this practice as it can take a lot out of the donor dog. We advise them to check with vets or fellow dog owners."
But pet owners can turn to other options such as the Golden Retriever Club's donor database.
About two years ago, Ms Goh, whose dog donated blood to the shih tzu Mickey, rallied members from the Golden Retriever Club to start this database. It now has a pool of 20 to 30 donor dogs.
She says: "There are fewer big dogs that weigh more than 25kg than small dogs here because most people live in public housing and are allowed to keep only small dogs. Since golden retrievers are big enough to donate, we felt it was important to educate people about this."
One of the owners listed in the database is Ms Angelia Long, 41, a housewife.
Her five-year-old labrador retriever has donated blood twice in the last three years. She says: "As a fur-parent, I felt pained to see blood being collected from her jugular for the first time, but I try to put myself in the other owner's shoes. The first time my dog donated blood, the other owner's golden retriever had cancer and was deteriorating badly. She was crying so much, it was heart-wrenching."
Ms Tan Chiew Sze, 34, an associate director in wealth management, describes her experience of looking for a donor for her poodle as "traumatic". The vet could not determine what was wrong with the dog but it needed a blood transfusion.
She says: "It was difficult. I was already so distressed by my dog's condition, but there was no time to waste. I went down my list of close friends and managed to find one who had a dog that was big enough to donate."
Some animal lovers are more than willing to go to the trouble of responding to the medical emergencies of animals that are not their own.
Corporate consultant Andy Pe, 44, who has three dogs that regularly donate blood, has sometimes taken time off work in order to help dogs in need of a transfusion. He has four other dogs that do not donate because they are past the age limit or have had tick fever.
Mr Pe says: "I love dogs and I see myself as part of a network of dog owners who try to help one another. If I ever send out an appeal for help, I hope that someone will respond too."
What can be done to encourage more pet blood donations? Write to email@example.com
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 25, 2014
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