Six months ago, Sophie the Labrador could hardly walk and was facing euthanasia.
That's when the Martinez office of Dr. Mark Brucker stepped in, agreeing to adopt Sophie and offer her the care she needed to keep her functioning. But there's a catch: Sophie gets to return the favor by helping other dogs as a blood donor.
"We typically try to keep a blood donor dog here," said Brucker, of Acute Care Veterinary Clinic in Martinez. He said his office's previous resident blood donor died in the fall. "They give blood to other dogs when they need it."
For 4-year-old Sophie, becoming a blood donor for other dogs was what helped save her own life.
Brucker said Sophie's previous owners were headed to New York for three or four years and had planned to leave her with a family member who lives in a third-floor walk-up apartment.
After injuring her knees, Sophie went to an orthopedic surgeon. But surgery wasn't an option for her owners because it cost several thousand dollars, Brucker said.
"So the option would be to get the surgery done or put her down,' Brucker said. "Word got back to us about what was going to happen. We were scratching our heads trying to figure out what we could do."
The answer was to bring her on as the resident blood donor earlier this year. Brucker said his clinic doesn't do a lot of blood transfusions, but when it's needed, Sophie is there.
"That's how she pays her rent," Brucker said jokingly.
Brucker had been Sophie's vet before adopting her and said her biggest problem is that her cranial cruciate ligaments - equivalent to the human anterior cruciate ligaments in the knee - are torn. Sophie also suffers from hip dysplasia.
Both ailments, compounded by being overweight, caused Sophie a lot of pain before she was adopted by the clinic and began receiving treatment.
"It really worked out well for everybody," Brucker said.
He said Labs aren't the best dogs to use as blood donors because they tend to be excitable and hard to keep still.
"It takes about 20 minutes to give blood, so they have to be awfully still for about 20 minutes," Brucker said. "She (Sophie) surprised us."
Brucker said they have needed blood from Sophie only four or five times. Dogs have blood types like humans, but a dog can receive one blood transfusion without the blood being matched, Brucker said.
"Sometimes we're giving it to little tiny dogs, so we don't need that much anyway," Brucker said.
Between blood transfusions, Sophie enjoys a cool, comfortable kennel from where she only has to negotiate one step to get outside. Sophie's kennel is equipped with a hammock-style bed to keep pressure off her sensitive joints. Sophie also is provided all the medical care and medication she needs to remain healthy and comfortable, despite her hip and knee problems.
"She doesn't act like her legs hurt," Brucker said, referring to the often pup he refers to as "Wild Thing."
Brucker said Sophie's owners have come back to visit her. But if anyone is willing to take care of Sophie, including having no stairs and providing her medication and special food for her joints, Brucker said he'd consider allowing someone to adopt her.
At Brucker's clinic, Sophie can sometimes be found attempting to catch Happy, the clinic resident cat, or going outside to play.
"We all enjoy her here,'' receptionist Teresa Tattillo said. Sophie has the typical Labrador personality, she said, that of a happy-go-lucky puppy.
Jon Heyman, a veterinary technician at the clinic, agrees.
"She's the happiest dog in the world," he said.
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