While driving along the back roads of Ouray County, I sometimes can’t help but feel like I am living in a James Herriot novel. Firstly, there is no doubt in my mind that Ouray County has the same diversity of characters as one of his novels. And secondly, like Herriot, sometimes I have to just stop the truck and get out for a short hike in the sun or to pause at an overlook and enjoy the day.
I remember one particular sunny day. I had just finished a routine vaccination call and after putting my veterinary bag in the ‘boot’ of the truck, I had driven over to a wide spot in the road to enjoy the view and sneak a sip of coffee in the quiet when my cell phone rang. The normally cultured lady’s voice on the other end sounded as frantic as a character in one of Herriot’s books. Apparently, her favorite jumper horse had got its leg caught in the trailer door and was bleeding badly. When I got to the ranch, the place looked like the scene of a massacre. There was blood all over the paddock, the back end of the trailer and the lady. Puddles of red were scattered around the round pen where a beautiful black stallion stood swaying slightly. The owner had tried to stop the bleeding with towels and tape but the makeshift bandages kept slipping down. Blood was squirting out in great spurts reminding me of B-rated horror movies. Without bothering to scrub, I put on some gloves and got to work. A catheter and fluids went in swiftly to counteract the shock and after what seemed like hours of nerve-racking surgery I managed to get the artery sewn up and the bleeding stopped. Then all that was left was to decide whether the horse needed a transfusion.
Of course, veterinarians like Herriot did transfusions for years with no more than a length of tubing and two needles. I myself have performed more than one successful emergency transfusion with only a couple of large syringes, a blood filter apparatus and a catheter in each animal. But before I did that I would have to blood type a donor and I struggled to remember the classes I took on blood types in horses.
Now, in people, blood types are classified according to two systems. These are the ABO and the Rh (or RhD) systems. Having O-blood means there are none of the antigens that will cause reactions in another person and so one can donate to any of the other types. Having AB+ blood means that there are all of the (A,B, and Rh) antigens. This blood will react if given to anyone without the same antigens. People with A types have antibodies to B and vice versa.
Cats also have A and B antigen types but they are not the same as in people. Most domestic cats are A. Some purebred breeds have a predominance of B. AB is Rare. B type blood causes a mild reaction in A type recipients. Conversely, A type blood causes a severe reaction in B type recipients — with death following swiftly. So it is important to type all cats beforehand. Like people, AB type cats can get blood from either A or B donors. There is no O type in cats.
Dogs are a different kettle of fish altogether. They have 12 blood groups — DEA 1 through DEA 12 — but only DEA 1 matters to any practical purpose. There are two DEA 1 alleles; 1.1 and 1.2. Most dogs are DEA 1.1+. Unlike with people, you can give positive dog blood to a negative dog IF it has never been sensitized before since dogs do not naturally have antibodies to the opposite blood type. Cows don’t need to be blood typed as they seem to have pretty standard blood amongst themselves.
But what about horses? Finally, I remembered! Horses have eight major blood groups: A, C, D, K, P, Q, U and T. The A, C and Q groups are the ones most likely to cause trouble so in horses we look for donors who are A, C and Q negative. But in the end the fluids seemed to do the job well enough and I decided not to do the transfusion after all. In no time at all the stallion was back to his old self and the next time I saw the owner at the market her voice had returned to its normal calm erudite manner as she thanked me profusely and eloquently. It is moments such as these that give me a sense of quiet happiness for the people and animals in the novel of my life and once again I felt a strong kinship with that famous vet from England.
Dr. Joe Alaimo is the owner of Ouray Vet and partner of Trail Town Still. The savior of small animals, thirsty people everywhere and a fairly dangerous man with a garlic press.