K-9's plight highlighted dire need for blood

As grievously wounded police dog Rocco fought for his life for two days in a local veterinary hospital, animal lovers looked to traditional media and social media for reports on his condition, which was always critical but laced with occasional glimmers of hope when the German shepherd's vital signs improved.

Though the Pittsburgh police canine officer lost his fight Thursday night, more than 100 pet owners volunteered to bring their own dogs to Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township to donate blood for the 8-year-old German shepherd.

Call it a positive outcome to a very negative event, as animal lovers learned about the need for canine blood donations.

Rocco was stabbed, causing massive bleeding. "Rocco basically -- over the last 24 hours -- has lost his entire blood volume one time over, if not more," said Anthony D. Pardo on Wednesday. He's a veterinary surgeon and co-owner of PVSEC.

The center had enough blood for Rocco. Staff veterinarians brought their own dogs in to donate blood to replenish the supply that will be needed for other dogs. Staff donor dogs have been pre-screened to ensure that they are healthy and test negative for blood-borne disease. PVSEC is scheduling screening appointments for the dogs whose owners volunteered their services.

Twenty-five years ago, dogs with injuries as severe as Rocco's would have died soon after the attack unless they were quickly transported to a critical care unit operated by a college of veterinary medicine. From Pittsburgh that would be a 300-mile trip to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia or 185 miles to the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Columbus.

The specialists have now moved away from veterinary schools, establishing critical care facilities in many locations, including Ohio Township, where Rocco was treated.

Veterinarian Larry Gerson of Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic said that many vets, including him, "have a big dog at home that we bring in as a donor. That's usually when a small amount of blood is need, like for a puppy" or for elective surgery. He agrees that most veterinarians do not have large supplies of blood.

Penn Vet has had a blood bank for many years. In 2012 PVSEC vets started theirs.

Donor blood is needed for victims of trauma, including motor vehicle accidents, as well as for a broad range of illnesses, including cancer. Patients needing critical care, like Rocco, use a lot of blood.

Rocco's death was hard on PVSEC veterinarians and staff, he said.

"People think we become numb," but that's not true, veterinarian Kenton Rexford said. "The more time you spend with them, the more you care."

There are generally six to 12 cats and dogs in the intensive care unit at any time at PVSEC, said Dr. Rexford, who co-owns the practice. About 100 dogs owned by regular pet owners periodically donate blood. Another 75 to 100 donor dogs are owned by veterinarians and other staff, he said.

The blood bank is nonprofit. Any income is donated to the PVSEC Animal Care & Assistance Fund, which helps clients with veterinary bills.

Go to www.pvs-ec.com or the Rogan Rexford Animal Blood Bank page on Facebook for information.

Once a week pet owners, by appointment, bring their dogs to be screened as potential donors. They will get free blood work.

Dogs must be 1-7 years old and weigh more than 50 pounds. They should be calm and well-behaved, current on vaccines, on flea/tick control medication and heartworm prevention. They must not have received a transfusion in the past.

Send email to animalbloodbank@pvs-ec.com or call 412-348-2588.

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