Brave dogs step up to make blood donations: Pet owners come together to create a safe system to help local canines in need

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Brave dogs step up to make blood donations: Pet owners come together to create a safe system to help local canines in need


Above: Kim Yeon-ok participates in a dog blood donation campaign on Oct. 23 with her 4-year-old Old English Sheepdog Choonhyangyi, who wears a canary yellow scarf given as a souvenir for donors. Far left: The certificate issued to blood donors. [SHIN IN-SEOP]

Kim Yeon-ok, a 40-year-old housewife living in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, drove miles to be part of a blood donation campaign on Oct. 23 along with a special companion named Choonhyangyi, a 4-year-old Old English Sheepdog.

Kim’s destination was the Deokpyeong highway rest stop located near the Yeongdong Expressway, the venue for the third dog blood donation event held by Hyundai Motor.

The local car manufacturer initiated the campaign, in which it encourages dog owners to donate the blood of their furry friends.


“My 14-year-old dog bled a lot when it underwent surgery and it eventually received a blood transfusion last winter. Before that, I didn’t really know much about dogs that are raised only for blood,” said Kim.

“I felt so sorry to hear that they spend their whole lives in cages and are raised for blood until the day they die. Just as my dog is precious to me, other creatures are precious, too. If there isn’t enough blood, we can help each other. So I signed up for this event.”

There are about 10 million pets living in Korea. So, it comes as no surprise that there has been a surge in need for dog blood in case of emergencies, but the supply fails to meet the demand mainly because the blood comes from dogs that are raised for the purpose of making blood reserves.

So the voluntarily campaign that was kicked off a year ago by a group of dog owners has proven meaningful.

Gang Bu-seong is one of the pet owners who started the campaign in October 2018. He eventually created an organization called the Korean Canine Blood Donor Association (Kcbda).


A Solati by Hyundai Motor was remodeled into a special van where dogs can donate blood. [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

“I launched my own podcast in 2016. On a show in July 2017, I mentioned that there are dogs raised for their blood. [After that episode aired] some of my listeners and I got together at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital of Seoul National University and donated blood from our dogs. That year, 20 large dogs took part. After that, we began to sign deals with other vet clinics and have donated blood since then.”

Now the association is in partnership with vet clinics across the nation.

“Desperate pet owners give us calls and ask where they should go for blood. Then we tell them where to go. It’s like we’re doing a secret operation.

“But it is a hassle for the dog owners to drive to get blood packs from clinics. In addition, most of the clinics [where donated blood is available] are located in Seoul and Gyeonggi, so I thought it would be great if we have a dedicated car. Coincidentally, Hyundai Motor was keeping an eye on us, and that’s how we got connected [with Hyundai Motor.]”

The company learned about the situation from the Konkuk University Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, as well as from the Kcbda when it renovated its Solati, a van that can accommodate up to 15 people.

The inside of the van was divided into two sections: one is where the blood samples are analyzed, while the other is a space where blood can be drawn. The height of the blood donor bed is adjustable to make the process as easy as possible.

It took 60 million won ($51,000) to renovate the inside of the van and another 90 million won was used for purchasing medical supplies.

With the tagline “One blood donation saves up to four lives,” an official webpage to encourage the dog blood donation was created by Hyundai Motor, and four video clips were produced for YouTube and Facebook.

The auto manufacturer also coined the word “dognor,” combing the words dog and donor. Each dognor gets a canary yellow scarf and a vest as souvenirs.

The van is currently on a nationwide tour, and it plans to make stopovers in 11 places.

Lee Chul-min from Hyundai Motor’s domestic marketing team said, “Ever since [the campaign videos] were uploaded to YouTube on Sept. 23, about 47 percent of viewers watched the whole clip from the beginning until the end. It’s quite a lot compared to the average video view rate of 27 percent.

“In addition, the 10,000 emojis [distributed via] Kakao Talk [for promotional purposes] were sold out in three days. The feedback is really good. The campaign also sheds light on the fact that large canines are not wild and scary,” Lee added.

Not all dogs are eligible for the blood donation, though. Candidates should have been given their general vaccines, including those that prevent heart worm and internal and external parasites. The dogs should be, at least, two years old and weigh over 25 kilograms (55 pounds).

People interested in the campaign should visit and fill out detailed information about their pets, including their medical background and date of birth. If their dog qualifies, owners will be informed by telephone.

Reservations are a must for blood donation because the van is only able to accommodate one dog at a time. Each procedure takes an average of two hours, and up to four dogs can be tested per day.

On Oct. 23, Kim, the owner of Choonhyangyi, signed an agreement informing her of all the medical procedures that will be applied to her pet.

Choonhyangyi’s blood pressure, heart rate and temperature were all taken before they began drawing blood.

After that, the medical staff trimmed the fur around the dog’s neck and dabbed some topical anesthetic creams.

The dog was waiting for the next round while a blood sample was being analyzed to see whether it was suitable for donation.

“We’ve had regular medical checkups every six months, but I’m little nervous if my dog has some [medical] problems. We couldn’t donate blood the other day after we found that the blood was infected with a heartworm,” said Kim.

Han Hyun-jung, a professor in the department of veterinary emergency and critical care at the Konkuk University Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, was in charge of collecting blood.

“Ethical issues regarding dogs raised only for blood have become better known, but still blood is in short supply. There are many volunteer groups that donate blood overseas, but that is just beginning to happen in Korea,” said Han.

“While there is the ABO blood type system for human blood, there is a DEA blood type system for dogs. For the majority of blood types [found in dogs], there is a test kit available so we can check whether the blood is positive or negative instantly. In order to prevent dogs from developing fatal rejection symptoms when blood is being transfused, a series of tests are mandatory.

“Depending on their weight, the amount of blood that can be taken out varies. For a dog that weighs about 25 kilograms, we usually collect about 300 milliliters (0.63 pints) of blood. After the first rounds of blood and infection tests, we do a second round of tests. If the blood turns out to be positive in the second round, the blood can’t be used,” she added.

A total of 80 milliliters of blood was taken from Choonhyangyi that day. Han said, “With this blood, we can save a small dog.”

After the blood donation was completed, Choonhyangyi received souvenirs such as the vest and scarf along with freebies sponsored by Bayer Korea. Their name was also listed in Kcbda’s Hall of Fame.

The blood that is collected is donated to vet clinics run by colleges such as Konkuk University, Gyeongsang National University, Chonnam National University and Chungnam National University across the nation.

“We saw a dog that was suffering from chronic anemia,” said Gang who leads the Kcbda. “It used to receive blood from dogs [raised for blood transfusion] but after it received blood from one of our [volunteer] dogs, it improved a lot and didn’t need any more blood transfusions.

“Pet owners who have small- and medium-sized dogs support us by sending donations instead. We used to have only either golden retrievers or Bernese mountain dogs, but we see more varied breeds these days such as German shepherds and Dobermans. We see this as a sign that the campaign is gaining a footing.”

Gang wants the campaign to be accepted as a natural part of dog owners’ yearly rituals.

“I suggest pet owners to donate blood on the day their dogs get yearly medical checkups. Blood is something that can’t be made at factories. And every dog deserves to live a happy life.”

The dog blood donation campaign will take place until the end of this year. The next one will be held at Munam Ecological Park in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, on Nov. 24, followed by Namsun Park in Daejeon on Dec. 4; Jeonju World Cup Stadium in Jeonju, North Jeolla, on Dec. 8; APEC Naru Park in Busan on Dec. 18, 22; Daegu City Hall Annex in Daegu on Dec. 29.


“지난해 14살 된 심청이(리트리버)가 비장 종양 수술 도중 출혈이 심해 수혈을 받게 됐어요. 그때 ‘공혈견(供血犬)’의 존재에 대해 다시 생각해보게 됐죠. 철창에 갇혀 피만 뽑히다 죽어야 한다니, 너무 마음이 아팠습니다. 우리 개만 중요한 게 아니라 다들 소중한 생명인데, 피가 부족하다면 서로 도와야 한다는 생각에 신청하게 됐어요.”

경기도 광주 곤지암에 사는 주부 김연옥(40)씨가 지난해 입양한 4살짜리 춘향이(올드잉글리쉬쉽독)를 데리고 지난달 23일 영동고속도로 덕평자연휴게소에서 열린 ‘개 헌혈’ 행사에 참가하게 된 이유다. 현대자동차가 10월부터 시작한 ‘반려견 헌혈카 전국 캠페인’ 세 번째 자리였다.

사실 ‘반려견 1000만 시대’에 ‘공혈견’은 불편한 진실이다. 반려견이 늘어나면서 각종 사고 및 수술에 따른 수혈 수요도 급증하고 있지만, 동물병원에 공급되는 피는 한정돼 있다. 그래서 피가 부족하면 “주인이 직접 구해오시라”는 경우도 있다고 애견인들은 전한다.

반려견, 특히 대형견 보호자들 사이에서 자발적인 헌혈 운동이 시작된 것은 그래서 일견 당연해보이면서도 사회적 의미가 적지 않다. 2018년 10월 한국헌혈견협회를 만든 강부성(45) 회장은 그 시작을 이렇게 말한다. “제가 2016년 반려견 팟캐스트 ‘개소리’를 시작했는데, 2017년 7월 어느날 ‘공혈견’ 이야기가 나왔어요. 가벼운 마음으로 청취자 중 대형견 보호자들과 함께 서울대 동물병원에서 헌혈을 시작했는데, 반응이 좋았습니다. 그해 20마리가 동참했어요. 이듬해 중랑구 로얄동물메디컬센터, 올해 3월 분당 해마루동물병원과 협약을 맺고 활동 범위를 차츰 넓혀갔지요.”

그 뒤 의정부 서정동물병원, 광주광역시 동물메디컬센터, 노원 24시N동물의료센터, 제주대 부속 동물병원, 일산 동물의료원 등 전국으로 연계망을 갖춰나갔다. 현재 충남대 및 경북대와 논의중이다. “피 부족으로 발을 구르던 보호자들이 저희한테 막 전화하세요. 그럼 어디로 가라, 007 작전처럼 하다보니 헌혈차가 있으면 좋겠다는 생각이 들었습니다. 연계 병원까지 오가기에 번거롭고, 그나마 수도권에 편중돼 있으니까요. 마침 저희의 활동을 눈여겨보던 현대자동차와 연결이 되었죠.”

현대차는 15인승 솔라티를 개조하면서 건국대 부속 동물병원 및 한국헌혈견협회의 자문을 받았다. 차량 내부를 혈액 분석실과 채혈실로 나누고, 채혈대는 높낮이 조절이 가능하도록 했다. 차량 가격 6000만원에 개조비, 혈액 교반기 및 분석용 장비 등 의료기기 설치비를 합쳐 1억5000만원 가량 들었다.

또 헌혈을 독려하기 위해 홈페이지도 만들고, ‘부견자견’ ‘대형견의 편견’ ‘아무나 못 하는 헌혈’ 등 유머러스한 짧은 영상도 4편 제작해 유튜브와 페이스북에 올렸다. “헌혈 한 번이 반려견 4마리를 살린다”라는 캐치프레이즈를 내세웠고, 헌혈견은 ‘도그너(DOgNOR·Dog+Donor)’라 부르며 노란색 스카프와 조끼를 제공해 명예를 부각하는 데 주력했다. 연말까지 전국 11곳 투어도 시작했다. 이철민 현대차 국내마케팅 1팀장은 “9월 23일 시작된 유튜브 영상의 조회율(영상을 끝까지 본 비율)이 47%로 평균 조회율 27%를 크게 웃돌고, 카카오톡 이모티콘 1만 개가 3일 만에 소진될 정도로 반응이 뜨겁다”라며 “전국을 순회하는 반려견 헌혈차는 현대자동차 모빌리티(Mobility)의 새로운 가능성을 제시했다”고 밝혔다. 그는 “사납고 무서운 존재로만 알려진 대형견들에게 헌혈을 통해 존재감을 확인시켜주는 통합의 의미도 있다”고 덧붙였다.

희망자는 홈페이지에 들어가 반려견의 각종 정보(예방접종 여부·복용약·성별·출생연도·중성화 여부)를 적어 내면 유선으로 안내를 받는다. 심장 사상충 및 내외부 구충 예방, 종합백신 예방접종을 실시한 2살 이상, 25kg이상의 대형견만 신청이 가능하다. 헌혈카에서는 한 번에 1마리만 검진 및 채혈이 가능하고 보통 2시간 가량 걸리기에 하루 4마리까지 할 수 있다.

이날 김연옥씨는 현장에서 의료행위 동의서부터 작성했다. 혈압·심박·호흡수·체온 등 신체 검사와 1차 채혈을 마친 춘향이는 경정맥이 있는 목 주위의 털을 조금 깎고 마취 크림을 바른 상태. 혈액 분석실에서는 20여 분간 검사를 통해 감염성 질환은 없는지, 적혈구는 충분한지, 빈혈은 없는지 등을 체크한다. “정기 검진을 6개월마다 해왔는데, 혹시 문제가 있을까봐 떨리네요. 지난 13일 춘천 행사에서는 사상충 감염이 발견돼 헌혈을 못 했다죠.”

채혈을 주도할 건국대 부속 동물병원 응급중환자의학과 한현정(40) 교수에게 과정을 물었다. 그는 우선 “공혈견 관리의 윤리적 문제가 많이 개선됐으나 그래도 공혈견만으로는 피가 부족하다”며 “외국에서는 기증 단체가 많은데 우리도 이제 시작됐다”고 의미를 부여했다. “사람의 ABO형처럼 개는 DEA형이라고 하는데, 크게 1·3·4·5·6·7·8형으로 구분됩니다. 계속 발견 중이고요. 가장 많은 1형은 검사 키트가 있어서 퍼지티브냐 네가티브냐를 판정하지요. 적혈구 표면에 있는 항원에 대한 항체가 생길 경우 치명적인 수혈 거부 반응이 나타날 수 있기 때문에, 수혈 전에 수혈이 가능한 혈액인지 확인하는 검사가 필요합니다. 체중에 따라, 혈관 상태에 따라 뽑는 양은 달라집니다. 25kg 기준으로 300ml 내외를 뽑죠. 시간도 상태에 따라 30분가량 걸리기도 하구요. 혈액상태 및 감염 검사후 다시 진드기 매개 질환 감별을 위한 PCR(실험실 검사)을 하게 되는데, 여기서 양성 반응이 나오면 쓰지 못합니다.”

이날 춘향이는 총 80ml를 뽑았다. 한 교수는 “이 정도면 소형견 1마리는 살릴 수 있겠다”고 말했다. 도그너의 피는 건국대·경상대·경북대·전남대·충남대 동물병원에 기증된다. 헌혈을 마친 춘향이는 조끼와 스카프, 헌혈증, 바이엘코리아가 제공한 선물 등을 지급받고 한국헌혈견협회 명예의 전당에 이름을 올렸다.

“비재생성 빈혈로 매번 공혈견의 피를 받다가 저희를 통한 뒤로는 더는 수혈을 안 받게 된 사례가 있어요. 사랑받고 자란 개의 피가 적혈구 수치가 더 높고 질도 좋아 재생이 되는 거라고, 보호자 분은 믿고 계세요.”

강 회장은 이어 “헌혈을 하지 못하는 중소형견 보호자들은 대신 후원금을 내며 응원해 주고 있다”며 “그동안 골든 리트리버나 버니즈 마운틴독이 많았는데 이번에 셰퍼트와 도베르만이 처음 나오는 등 견종도 다양해지고 있어 점점 자리를 잡아가는 것을 느낀다”고 말했다.

“즐거운 캠페인이 되어야 오래 지속할 수 있겠죠. ‘1년에 한 번, 건강검진하는 날 헌혈도 하자’고 제안하고 있어요. 피는 공장에서 만들 수 있는 게 아니잖아요. 다 같이 행복하게 살아야죠.”

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