Nine Lives (and Counting)

DoveLewis blood donors Baldwin (right) and Woodrow have been helping save fellow felines since 2006.

When humans donate blood, they’re rewarded with juice and cookies. Nice, but nothing compared to what Baldwin and Woodrow get for giving up the good stuff: room, board, and one of the cleanest litter boxes in Portland.

Baldwin and Woodrow are DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital’s current blood-donor kitties. While the canine blood bank is regularly filled by several hundred dog donors whose owners sign them up, feline blood is harder to find. Cats must be anesthetized during donation, and while some vets will use their own cats as donors, DoveLewis doesn’t want to take a chance with anybody’s pet; the job of saving lives falls to resident felines Baldwin and Woodrow.

The donor program, in place since 1987, is one of only a handful of its kind in the country. Donor cats typically spend about two years at the hospital, on NW Pettygrove Street, and each donates up to twelve times per year, parting with fifty milliliters of blood each time (enough to fill a small perfume bottle). The blood is used in the nearly one thousand emergency transfusions that DoveLewis performs yearly, as well as in procedures at veterinary offices throughout the city. “Hundreds and hundreds of cats’ lives have been saved because of them,” says the hospital’s critical care director, Dr. Alicia Faggella.

Blood donors are typically rescued adult males (females may have been pregnant, which can create antibodies that affect the purity of their blood). The donors live in the Feline Blood Donor Habitat, which is decked out with beds, scratching posts, towers and shelves for leaping and lounging, toys, and a fish-tank picture window.

To stay healthy, Baldwin and Woodrow aren’t allowed to play with other animals or interact with the public, but they cuddle up with trained volunteers and DoveLewis staff members who don’t have cats of their own (to avoid transmitting diseases). In fact, staff members usually get so attached to the donors, the staffers end up taking the cats home when their tenure as donors ends—just the reward these bighearted kitties deserve.