In 2014 Guillero del Toro’s horror/science fiction series, The Strain, debuted on cable television. The show offered a new twist on a classic vampire theme. Viewers could forget about garlic and crosses. This vampire was beyond such novelty remedies. Silver and UV radiation would come in handy, though. These would be valuable weapons against the modern plague that was about to descend on New York City, and then the world. For those who persevered through four seasons of this series, there was another ally, more powerful than any other: ethical integrity. It turned out that the only way the vampire race could win was if humans failed in their moral obligation to stand with other humans and resist the monsters, even if that resistance put their own lives at risk.
I thought of del Toro this morning as I read an article about volunteer dog blood donors. The horror of this concept settled on me even before I viewed pictures that showed cages where these “volunteers” were confined in preparation for blood withdrawal. I thought of the blood farms in The Strain, in which humans are hooked up to tubes and drained of their essence so that vampires might live. What human, I wondered, what class of person, thought up a dog donor blood farm?
The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, now consolidated with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, provides guidelines for treatment of dog blood donors. The society states that such dogs should be companion animals who are taken to the veterinarian for the purpose of donating blood. I watched a YouTube video in which a donor dog appeared to fit this description. The dog was extremely cooperative and did not appear to be distressed at any point. Still…the whole thing had a sort of Munchausen syndrome by proxy feel to it. The dog was giving its 32nd (!) blood donation.
Of course, when our pets are sick, we want there to be a cure. If our pets require a transfusion, we want that blood to be available, to give them life. But we should tread carefully. That blood comes from a donor, a donor who cannot rightly be called a volunteer. How can a dog volunteer? Oversight must be scrupulous.
Considering what it costs the donor dog to give blood, it should cost the recipient animal nothing. If this is truly an altruistic undertaking, remove money from the equation. There should be no monetary incentive for anyone to collect or receive dog donor blood. Neither the owner of the pet, the vet who collects the blood nor the vet who administers the blood to a sick animal should receive compensation, except the joy of healing an animal. The donor pet can receive treats, however.
When our life, or the life of someone (including our pet) is on the line, it’s difficult to consider the moral implications of our behavior. But that’s the time when morality is most helpful. The temptation to choose our own interest over the well being of another is quite strong. As sentient humans, we have the ability to resist the temptation, to make an ethical choice. If we fail in our moral obligation to protect animals who cannot make a voluntary decision, then what use is our sentience? What ethical distinction is there between a person who views helpless animals as a blood source and del Toro’s monster vampires on The Strain?