Treats aside, a trip to the clinic is usually a pet’s worst nightmare, but Sara Popple’s Great Dane struts to a different beat.

Schatzi arrives “with his tail wagging,” Popple said, and leaves holding “his head up a little higher.”

He’s helping other dogs that face life-threatening medical situations. Schatzi donates blood — sometimes after being summoned late at night for an emergency — at the Twin Cities Animal Blood Bank.

“Typically when you bring your pets there, they’re not really excited. … He almost acts like he’s proud of himself,” Popple said.

And why not? He’s donated 23 times in the past two years. The Popples have even gotten frantic calls for donations as late as 11 p.m. They load Schatzi into the back seat of their car and drive from their home in Rosemount to the clinic in Apple Valley.

“Because we have a Great Dane, we kind of draw a lot of attention. We end up talking to a lot of pet owners,” she said.

The blood bank is one of several nationwide that collect dog and cat plasma. It serves clinics nationwide, not just in Minnesota, and requests at least four donations per pet a year.

The bank has been open since 2003, yet many pet owners are unaware that the animal blood trade exists, according to its lead coordinator, Laurel Bock. Bock previously worked at the University of Minnesota, where she became interested in emergency and critical care. She and other technicians deliver blood for clinics — sometimes driving to an urgent call outside the city.

“Cats tend to hide their diseases more than dogs will,” Bock said. “When a clinic needs cat blood, they’ll pretty much need it right away.”

Helping people, too

“I used to tell my students that you may be going into [veterinary work] just to help animals, but you have to remember there is someone on the other end of the leash,” Bock said.

The owners of the donating animals benefit, too, because they save the costs of standard testing for infectious diseases.

In order to donate to the blood bank, which has 21 regular donors, animals must be in good health, even-tempered, vaccinated and spayed, if female. Cats and dogs must be between 1 and 9 years old and cats must weigh at least 9 pounds, dogs at least 50.

Do-for-your-neighbor altruism is what draws most owners to raise their pet’s paws.

For Liz and Tom Hanly, of Shakopee, “Animal House” is an understatement. They have two dogs and five cats, three of which have donated twice annually for five years.

“We both donate our own blood,” said Liz Hanly, “so it just seemed to make sense that if there’s an animal in need, we should help them as well.”

A close call with liver disease involving their cat, Pebbles, a few years ago prompted the Hanlys to empathize with animal owners facing similar situations. Their other cat, Dewy Kaplan, has donated plasma that has helped felines diagnosed with conditions like clotting disorder and gastrointestinal hemorrhage.

For most pet owners, the familial-furry bond is undeniable.

“They’re part of the family,” Popple said of pets, “so I think this is a super important thing.”