By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
NASHUA -- Oscar is a golden retriever with humane tendencies. His owner, Pat Cambray of Brookline, said bringing her dog to Animal Medical Center of New England for Saturday's pet blood drive seemed to line up with her pet's giving spirit.
"He does pet therapy. Oscar has a volunteer mentality already, so I thought it would be a good thing for him to do," said Cambray, who noticed a flyer at the gym advertising the People and Pets blood drive, sponsored by the American Red Cross.
"He's been healthy, but I've had dogs that needed treatment, and the blood has to come from somewhere," Cambray said.
A relatively new trend in animal care includes identifying dogs and cats as donors through blood drives, said Dr. Shalsee Vigeant, who was on duty Saturday to give potential doggie donors an exam.
"Most people don't know about blood donation for pets, but cats and dogs need blood products just like humans do," said Vigeant, who described the medical center on Main Dunstable Road as an ICU for animals.
Aside from Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, there are few if any animal blood blanks available to local veterinarians.
"Most will get blood from a national company, which takes time and shipping, and in many cases you don't have time to wait," Vigeant.
Pets and their owners who arrived Saturday for the blood drive were briefed on the process, which begins with a routine blood test to determine blood type and to screen for blood borne diseases, including Lyme's disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Those animals that checked out will be rescheduled for an appointment to give blood.
"There are incentives. For example, clients who come in from Animal Hospital of Nashua, which is right behind us, get a credit on a future bill. Other vets will give a bag of food in exchange for a pet's donation," said Vigeant. "And any pet that donates, if they ever need blood, they will get it for free."
Jen Cunningham of Tyngsborough, Mass., was not one of those who brought a pet in for testing. Her dog, Rayman, a 3-year-old cocker spaniel, has been on the receiving end of the local pet blood bank for several weeks, suffering from a liver deficiency following a bout with pancreatitis. He has been coming for daily plasma transfusions.
"It means a great deal to us to keep him going -- he's happy and otherwise healthy. Without the transfusions, he's expire. His prognosis is guarded, but we're hoping for the best. We're hoping his liver will kick in and start doing what it's supposed to do," Cunningham said.
Cost is a factor for Cunningham, who has considered pet insurance, but so far, hasn't bought a policy.
"We spent $6,000 in two weeks, and to be honest, we really can't afford it for much longer. We've had some help from my parents, and are basing all of this on Rayman's quality of life. Right now, he's doing fabulous, but we will soon have to make a decision if nothing changes," Cunningham said.
Other canine heroes of the day included Zoe, a one-year-old "purebred mutt" who made the veterinary technicians work hard for the small vial of blood they finally were able to extract from the dog's jugular vein. Zoe's owner, Carley Engle of Dracut, Mass., a dedicated human blood donor, said something about it all just felt right.
"If I can help someone else by donating blood, why can't she?" Engle said.
Also ready to lend a paw was Vinnie, a spirited Belgian Tervuren, who works as a therapy dog at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester and Derry Healthcare & Rehab.
"I've had five huskies before, and most of them lived to old age. Four of them ended up with cancer and a couple of them needed blood transfusions," said Vinnie's owner, Patty Naimo, of Manchester. "I know how grateful I was that the blood was there for my dogs when they needed. When I heard about this, I knew it was the right thing to do."
Animals can be tested anytime to see if they qualify as donors. For more information find Animal Medical Center of New England on the Web at www.AMCNE.com, or call 603-821-7222.