05/10/2013 06:32 EDT | Updated 07/10/2013 05:12 EDT

Edmonton Police Dogs Donate Blood To Help Edmonton Canine Blood Clinic

EDMONTON - Maverick's eyes dart and his breath quickens as he's propped on a table for his first blood donation.

At one point, the four-year-old kicks in resistance and tries to squirm away from the firm hold of the workers. A long needle is drawn into his jugular vein and blood starts flowing out. Three long minutes pass as a unit of blood collects in an intravenous bag.

After a few moments to rest, one of the staff slips Maverick a cookie and the German Shepherd trots away, wagging his tail.

Maverick is one of three service dogs from the Edmonton police's canine unit who donated blood Friday at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology's Animal Blood Bank.

The move was part of the blood bank's effort to address what it says is a chronic shortage of donated canine blood in Alberta.

More than 2,000 donations have been collected at the blood bank since it opened in 2001, but that's not enough to meet regional demand, said Shauna Lesick, an instructor with the NAIT Animal Health Technology program.

The Edmonton blood bank is one of three in Canada and fills a quarter of the need for canine blood in the country.

Canine blood donations are used for dogs in need of a transfusions, especially animals with conditions that cause anemia. One donation provides blood and plasma for two dogs.

"This is a life-saving technique. If the blood isn't there, we can't save their lives," Lesick said.

Part of the blood shortage stems from few owners knowing dogs can donate blood, she said. Supply is especially low during holiday periods and the summer months.

Lesick said staff at veterinary clinics will often their own pets to provide blood for dogs that are waiting.

In order to donate, dogs must be between the ages of one to eight, weigh at least 50 pounds, be healthy and even-tempered, and have their current vaccinations.

Donating blood can be a nerve-racking experience for some dogs, but Lesick said most are successful the first time.

"Most dogs just totally relax and sit there no problem. An occasional dog who doesn't know what's going on might wiggle halfway between because it's a long time."

Const. Murray Burke, with the Edmonton police canine unit, admitted he was nervous for Maverick, but said his service dog did well.

"You're always a little nervous, I think. You feel for him because he doesn't know what's going on," he said.

Const. Ryan Busby said he's never donated blood before, but watching his service dog, Jagger, donate has made him reconsider.

"It's definitely an eye-opener and I think we're going to do a team effort here and I'll start doing it as well."

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