By Ingrid Taylor, D.V.M.
Physicians take an oath vowing to “do no harm” when treating their human patients, but veterinarians, too, strive to avoid causing harm to animals.
So PETA’s recent exposé of a little-known and almost totally unregulated industry — animal blood banks — is an eye-opener to many in the veterinary field. Blood transfusions can be lifesavers for sick and injured animals, but behind the scenes, dogs on at least one blood factory farm are caged in squalor, denied veterinary care and repeatedly bled, even when they are scared to death of a human hand.
Earlier this year, a worker at The Pet Blood Bank, Inc., in Texas, which sold dogs’ blood to veterinary clinics across the U.S., decided that he just couldn’t take it anymore.
He blew the whistle on the enterprise, sending PETA photographs and video footage of 150 or so greyhounds suffering in shocking conditions at the facility. The dogs were “discards” from the greyhound racing industry, and some were so afraid to be touched, even urinating on themselves at the prospect, that they are called “cringers.”
Photos show dogs with open and infected wounds, painfully rotting teeth and overgrown toenails curled all the way back to penetrate their paw pads.
Video footage shows dogs pacing and spinning endlessly in circles — severe stress-induced behavior.
Most of the greyhounds are confined alone to wire pens devoid of anything to do, the floors pitted with holes and invaded by mice, ticks and even snakes. Out of boredom and despair, the dogs dig and chew on the old, filthy chemical tanks that serve as their “shelter,” come summer or winter, leaving jagged edges that sometimes cut them.
The whistleblower reported that dogs were denied veterinary care—even for an apparent broken leg—and in recent months, he found two dead in kennels with watering devices that were bone-dry. He also found hundreds of ticks embedded in their skin. In a crude attempt to control parasites, workers sprayed them with a termite poison meant to be used on trees and buildings. The chemical blistered their skin and irritated their eyes.
When the dogs were bled, up to twice a month, they were confined to crates for hours — sometimes kept in the burning – hot sun without access to water and even muzzled. Workers took 20 percent of their blood volume at a time, which can lead to serious side effects in dogs whose health is already compromised, and some became so weak that they had to be carried back to the kennels.
Greyhounds are especially sensitive to extreme temperatures because of their thin coats and sparse subcutaneous fat, yet they are held at this facility without protection from the heat or cold. And one dog was photographed with deep pressure sores on the hindquarters, caused by having to lie on the hard ground.
Surprisingly, even as the demand for animal-blood products grows and dog-blood banks proliferate, most states do not regulate or inspect such operations, and no federal regulations regarding them exist.
If you care about animals, you may be wondering what you can do. Many animal-blood banks sponsor blood drives and recruit volunteers, a model that should be adopted by all blood bank operations.
If you’re a veterinary professional, please make sure that the blood products you use come only from humane sources — meaning that the donors go home and sleep in their own beds after their blood is collected — and not from captive dogs confined to cages. And check the veracity of such claims, as this blood bank told clients that volunteer donors were its source of blood, when, in fact, they were not. If you have an animal at home, please show this article to your vet and ask him or her to go to PETA.org/Bloodbank to learn more.
Everyone is invited to visit PETA’s website and join us in calling on The Pet Blood Bank to surrender all the greyhounds so they can be rescued and receive immediate veterinary care. They deserve a chance to experience love and respect, to run and play, and to live as dogs at long last.