Ultimate Smackdown Cage Match: FDA vs. Yellow-Bellies

Never fear: the FDA SWAT team is on da job. That’s right, just when you were worried that eggs, baby formula, and other milk products were contaminated with the same toxins which killed thousands of pets in 2007, the FDA swoops in to save us all from the menace of [insert JAWS theme here] PET TURTLES:

On March 3, 2008, Strictly Reptiles Inc., a wildlife dealer in Hollywood, Fla., sold 1,000 baby yellow-bellied sliders and Mississippi map turtles to a souvenir shop in Panama City, Fla. The sale violated a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on small pet turtles designed to protect the public from the disease-causing bacteria Salmonella. Turtles often carry Salmonella on their outer skin and shell surfaces, and people can get Salmonella infection by coming in contact with turtles or their habitats.

On July 14, 2008, the U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale convicted and sentenced Strictly Reptiles for its role in illegally selling, and offering for sale, live undersized turtles. The Florida District of FDA’s law enforcement arm, the Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the case leading to the conviction, with help from FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

OK well I guess the melamine contamination is not such a worry after all. In fact, the FDA has flip-flopped on the whole melamine safety issue. When we learned about the toxin being in pet food last year, the FDA said it had “no approved use in human or animal food in the United States” and there was no safe level of melamine in foods. I’m a layman but this made sense to me since melamine is the material they use to make things like dinnerware and the Magic Eraser. But after discovering melamine and cyanuric acid in human foods this Fall, the FDA created a safety level for the poisons, except for baby milk. Now in an Olympic medal worthy double flip-flop, the FDA has determined safe levels of melamine and cyanuric acid for baby formula. I’ll have one Magic Eraser on an edible melamine plate TO GO and give me a kiddie meal of cyanuric acid on the side please.

But regarding the super-dee-duper dangerous pet turtles, the FDA really had to take a stand. Some things are too important to let slide (little turtle pun there – you’re welcome). See, the FDA warns us:

Small pet turtles are of particular concern because children are more prone to handling the turtles without washing their hands afterwards, and even putting the turtles in their mouths.

OK I admit I didn’t have a pet turtle as a kid. So perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that I never put one in my mouth. I do remember having a mouse and surely at some point I put him in my mouth but apparently that memory has been blocked. But one thing I do recall trying is dog food. In fact, I think I tried it because all the other kids I knew had tried it and I didn’t want to lose my status in the Nerd Society. Maybe you or your kid has put dog biscuits or cat food or dog kibble in their mouths too. Well I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news, May 2008:

A salmonella outbreak that swept 19 U.S. states in late 2006 has been a mystery, until now.

Nearly 200 consumers were sickened by what investigators believed to be tainted tomatoes, or other produce.

But now, the Centers for Disease Control says the apparent source of the 2006 salmonella outbreak was tainted dog food.

More bad news, September 2008:

[P]et food is being voluntarily recalled because of potential contamination with Salmonella serotypeSchwarzengrund.
Salmonella can cause serious infections in dogs and cats, and, if there is cross contamination caused by handling of the pet food, in people as well, especially children, the aged, and people with compromised immune systems.

Still more bad news, October 2008:

The Hartz Mountain Corporation is recalling one lot of its chicken-basted rawhide chips because of possible Salmonella contamination.

Even more-more bad news, November 2008:

Mars Petcare US is extending a recall of dry pet food after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported finding Salmonella in additional samples of the company’s SPECIAL KITTY Gourmet Blend cat food.

The earlier recall, issued October 27, was for cat food produced at Mars’ Allenton, Pa., plant on August 11, 2008. The recall is now being extended to cover all dry pet food produced at the plant with a “best by” date between August 11, 2009 and October 3, 2009.

Holy Bad Bacteria Batman – this is starting to look like a pattern! The FDA SWAT team response to all these Salmonella pet food issues? *crickets*

But before we judge the FDA too harshly for apparently protecting big business over American citizens, let us not forget their swift and decisive take down action on the pet turtle threat. I think we’ll all sleep a little better knowing that there are some safety issues that really bring the FDA out of their shells. (You’re welcome, redux.)

Saving Fight Dogs – It’s Not Just for Celebrity Cases

Every Dog Deserves a Fair Evaluation. Does this include dogs seized in abuse and dogfighting cases? Most definitely because in those cases, it’s the humans who are the criminals, not the dogs. And what do the humans get – a fair evaluation (trial by jury of their peers) to determine whether they should be rehabilitated (such as in a prison drug program) or just returned to function as a member of our society (if found ‘not guilty’ of the charges brought against them).

The dogs are the crime victims. They have been physically and emotionally abused, forced to fight in order to stay alive. Seized dogs from these cases are at least entitled to a fair evaluation (a behavioral eval performed by a knowledgeable and independent trainer) to determine whether they require rehabilitation (such as carefully conducted socialization exercises) or can just return to function as a member of our society (if the eval determines the dog needs no more than the basic training required by typical rescue dogs in shelters). If the latter, the dog must be appropriately matched to an owner who can develop a successful relationship with the animal just like every other shelter dog.

In following the story of the 187 Pitbulls and mixes seized in the Houston dogfighting case this month, I came across this piece at the Pet Connection. Many of the seized dogs are apparently being held by the Houston SPCA. The group’s PR manager told a Houston newspaper:

…the dogs would be put through rehabilitation tests and the courts will decide what should be done with them.

[ Note:  Due to a formatting problem, the link will not post for the above quote.  It can be found here:  http://hcnonline.com/articles/2008/11/22/north_channel_sentinel/news/112008_nc_dog_fighting.txt ]

But this same spokesman is quoted just a short time later telling a Houston blog:

“These animals are bred from a long line of fighting dogs to be aggressive,” Houston SPCA spokeswoman Meera Nandlal told Hair Balls this morning. “We have made the decision that they will be humanely euthanized.”

Was the spokesman misquoted in one of the stories? Because the two definitely don’t make sense together. Presumably the Texas courts are not run by the Houston SPCA who apparently has a policy against adopting out Pitbulls.

Perhaps the Houston SPCA hasn’t heard but rescue groups like BADRAP and Best Friends have had great success with the dogs seized in the Michael Vick abuse/dogfighting case. Why couldn’t a similar plan be implemented for the Houston dogs? I know it’s not a sexy celeb case but don’t these abused dogs deserve at least the same opportunity as Vick’s abused dogs? Don’t all seized dogs deserve a chance? I’m not advocating for some irresponsible set-them-free-they-are-all-great-and-don’t-need-evaluations hare-brained scheme. All I’m saying is, let’s build upon the success of the experience with the Vick dogs – not go backwards. Let’s dump old-think policies that say all dogs who look like X or who were seized in cases involving Y must be killed. We are a no-kill nation, even if some of the supposed “rescuers” in the dog world haven’t caught up with the times. Let’s walk the walk.

Here is my challenge to my fellow dog bloggers. Let’s shine a light on the Houston case – and keep it there until we hear some definitive answers. Let’s make this case a celebrity case. And readers, there’s work for you too. Let’s contact the Houston SPCA and let them know politely and respectfully that Every Dog Deserves a Fair Evaluation. Remind them of the success of the Vick dogs (including Leo, now a therapy dog) and let them know the dog community and their donors are watching this case. And contact the Houston media (HCNonline here) to ask for continued coverage of the case, specifically what is happening to the 187 rescued dogs.

Let’s be a voice for the Houston dogs. Every Dog Deserves a Fair Evaluation.

Orijen Dry Cat Food Problems in Australia: Answers

Champion Pet Foods, makers of Orijen, have posted a pdf explaining why the Australian cats developed neurological problems and some had to be euthanized as a result. In a nutshell, Australia required Orijen cat food to be irradiated at a very high level which knocked out the food’s Vitamin A and caused the fatty acids to oxidize. The Orijen dog food coming into Australia is also irradiated but no dogs have been reported ill by their owners. Champion explains:

[C]ats require higher levels of vitamins than dogs (AAFCO 2008), and cats are highly
sensitive to changes in vitamins or oxidative by-products (such as occur from irradiation).

As a result, Orijen will no longer be shipped – cat or dog (since it’s possible cats could eat the dog food) – to Australia.

I think this a good response from a pet food company faced with a recall in which pets, in this case cats, became ill and died as a result of eating the company’s product. Imagine if other pet food manufacturers handled past, present and future problems reported with their foods in this same manner. Yeah, I’m looking at YOU Menu Foods and Nutro. ahem.

Oh Coaty, Your Breeder Must Be So Proud!

Orijen Dry Cat Food Linked to Illness/Death in Australia

A number of cats in Australia have become ill and some have died. Orijen brand cat food is apparently the only thing these cats have in common:

A cat neurologist, Georgina Child, has put down five cats over the past week and treated or consulted with other vets about more than a dozen others suffering from paralysis.
First symptoms included wobbliness or weakness in the animal’s hind legs, which could then progress to the front limbs. The condition did not appear to be infectious, Dr Child said, nor typical of a nutritional deficiency.

I hope they are able to determine the cause definitively and I’ll post more information as I come across it.

Michael Vick: Morally Bankrupt

According to a newly released USDA report on the Michael Vick case, a witness told investigators that Vick put family pets (the article does not indicate how the pets were obtained) in the ring with Pit Bulls trained to fight. Of course the pets were severely injured or killed but Vick “thought it was funny to watch” according to the witness. The report also reveals how Vick lied to investigators during a polygraph test, denying he had killed “underperforming dogs”. (Those would be normal, friendly Pit Bulls who suffered abuse but did not change their true nature, even to save their own lives.):

The dogs were killed by shooting, hanging, electrocution and drowning, and in at least one instance, according to one of the witnesses, when Vick and Phillips killed a red pit bull by “slamming it to the ground several times before it died, breaking the dog’s back or neck.”

Vick is due to be released from federal prison in eight months. He is currently in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, claiming assets of $16 million and debts of $20.4 million. Court records indicate lavish homes, vehicles and other spending by Vick for himself, his family members and friends. Among Vick’s assets:

His real estate holdings include the homes in Suffolk and Hampton in Virginia where his mother and fiancee live, respectively, and vacant houses in Williamsburg and Duluth, Ga. Construction continues on a $2 million home in Suffolk where he and his fiancee plan to eventually live. [emphasis added]

Now don’t get me wrong. I am all for paying one’s debt to society and starting over with a clean slate. But can we inject a little bit of reality into this situation? Is it necessary for Vick and fiancee to build their own $2 million home? Could they possibly manage to live in a home someone else built, perhaps valued at something less than $2 million? I know nothing of the fiancee but Vick at least appears to be employable. In fact, he may get another job in professional football, although I hope not. But assuming he gets some job, why can’t they plan to budget, repay debts, scrimp and save for the future, a little at a time? Vick claims to owe 20% more money than he has. Newsflash: There are many Americans in this same (or worse) situation. They are struggling to make ends meet, sometimes relying on help from family and friends. Couldn’t Vick’s family and friends downgrade their lavish cars, boats and homes in order to help Vick repay his debts? I’m not saying the guy has to live in substandard housing with no health insurance, eating Top Ramen. Although a lot of guys getting out of prison do just that. For that matter, a lot of Americans, guilty of no crimes, live like that. All I’m saying is that Vick’s bankruptcy filing stinks to me. And yeah, maybe I’m influenced by images of Vick laughing while family pets are torn apart by his abused Pit Bulls. And maybe I’m not thinking as kindly of him as I might otherwise because I can’t help picturing him torturing “underperforming dogs” to death. And maybe I’m wincing at the idea that Vick will probably be working in the NFL again soon, raking in the dough, driving his flashy cars and living in his $2 million dollar home while the dogs he killed rot in a landfill somewhere, their bones being a last testament to the fate Vick handed down to man’s best friend.

Treats on the Internets

The FDA says people are getting scammed by callers identifying themselves as FDA agents. Can you imagine the poor sod who calls my number? Before he got a chance to try the extortion scam, I would have given him such an earful about food safety and the pharmaceutical companies’ stranglehold on health, he’d be admitting he wasn’t with the FDA at all and I’d probably think he was just trying to get off the hook. [Note: FDA officials – call me!]

In the UK, Catherine O’Driscoll calls out the pet food companies for their part in contributing to unhealthy pets. And I just like the title: Own a Fat Dog, Go Straight to Jail

A very cute dog gets some basic training at Life on the Leash

In Clover, South Carolina, the town council is considering a vicious dog ordinance and some are questioning the need to name specific breeds, such as pitbulls:

In a memo to council, Town Administrator Allison Harvey said she couldn’t find any research proving that breed-specific legislation is successful.

Right. So why are we considering it again?

Susan Thixton asks: Is it ethical for Vets to recommend pet food?

Market Watch has a piece on how one pet food company has taken heed of consumers’ desire for COOL on pet foods. Sounds good. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a trend.

Don’t It Make My Black Coat Blue?

I notice in the Fall and Winter, certain light makes the black dogs look almost blue in photos. OK yeah, just an excuse for me to show off a couple of my pesty pets: Randi, age 6 and Patty, age 2.

Stuff I Know, Courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes

Click image for full size.

Two More Reports of Police Killing Family Dogs

In Pennsylvania:

“There is no misunderstanding,” said Mangan. “He shot my dog maliciously.”

Mangan said the deputy’s story that Lincoln tried to attack him doesn’t add up.

“The leash doesn’t go past where he shot him at. He can’t go any farther; he was in his own back yard, secure, on a leash,” said Mangan.

The deputy said he couldn’t see the leash. [emphasis added]

Allegheny County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Joseph Rizzo said in a statement, “If, in any event, a Sheriff’s deputy goes to a house and there is an aggressive animal, they make every effort to get out of harms way. If a dog is going to attack the deputy, they have no recourse.”

No recourse except maybe to outfit the officer with a pair of glasses. This story reads like perhaps the officer was too quick to shoot. I guess we’ll know for sure when the police get done investigating themselves and determine if they acted appropriately. Stay tuned.

In Illinois:

Officer guns down family dog

Park Forest police chief says detective had no choice

There are many things a 10-year-old boy should not see. Police officers gunning down the family dog during a burglary investigation is one of them.

No kidding. These officers are not equipped with any means of fending off a dog other than a revolver? No pepper spray even? That sounds irresponsibly dangerous.

I want to support our public servants as much as anyone but honestly, when some officers conduct themselves in this Wild West manner, it’s hard to stand by those kinds of actions. And although I haven’t read about it happening yet (and I hope I never do), it certainly seems possible that one day, an officer might shoot the beloved companion of someone who is also a gun owner, quick to shoot, and in need of glasses. Or maybe a stray bullet from an officer’s gun will miss the dog and hit a kid. I don’t know but the police are contributing to a reckless environment when their position on dogs seems to be shoot first.