What Happens When Your Dog is a Pet Food Victim?

That day, Talula was a normal dog. Then she ate dinner. Then she died.

It’s every pet owner’s fear these days — that the food they so carefully chose for their pet will turn out to be toxic. Their pet could be sickened or worse. But most owners don’t realize just how bad the worst can be. Not only could your pet die, you could be sued by the very company that produced the toxic food.

The pet food industry has been rife with recalls for misformulation and toxic ingredients over the past ten years. From the largest recall ever in 2007, which resulted in the deaths and sicknesses of thousands of dogs and cats, to the almost continuous additions to the recall list of products with excess vitamin D made by Hill’s Pet Food, choosing a safe food for your pet is getting more difficult each day. (See a list of recalls since 2007 here – opens in new window.)

Just how hard is it to choose a safe pet food? Data summarized from 2012 – 2019 revealed the following information on recalled pet foods. During this time period, the amounts recalled per type of food were:

  • Kibble 75,541 tons
  • Treats 76,543 tons
  • Canned 16,536 tons
  • Raw 993 tons
  • Dehydrated or cooked 250 tons

When it comes to canned foods, four factors were the causes of the recalls. These included excess thyroid hormone, foreign objects, vitamin mineral content errors, and pentobarbital contamination. Of these, pentobarbital contamination accounted for 91% of the recalled canned products.

Talula, the dog who died, consumed Evanger’s Hunk of Beef, which was proven to contain pentobarbital, by both a university laboratory and FDA. After her death, a full necropsy (after death examination) was conducted. The food in her stomach was found to be a match for the Hunk of Beef, and contained pentobarbital. The owner, proof in hand, filed suit against Evanger’s, and shared her story with the media. Truly a tragic situation.

And then Evanger’s filed a lawsuit against her. Despite the incontrovertible evidence of pentobarbital in the Hunk of Beef product, the symptoms exhibited by Talula, and the post-mortem findings, Evanger’s sued Talula’s owner for defamation. The core of their lawsuit was that Talula’s owner made the heartwrenching decision to euthanize her, when attending veterinarians advised that she was unlikely to recover. The company said that meant Talulah did not die from the food – in fact they actually stated that Talula’s owner killed her, in their suit.

Imagine the grief and guilt that comes with having fed your dog something that proved fatal. Sadly countless owners have found themselves in that very position over the past decade. And imagine then being persecuted, and prosecuted, for advocating for your pet.

A compassionate choice was made for Talula, by a loving owner, whose only mistake was buying what was promoted to be a human quality, topnotch canned beef food, when in fact it was contaminated with a euthanasia drug. How ironic that it was that very same drug that was given to end her suffering.

Who could be so cold hearted as to file a lawsuit against an owner in such a situation? Fortunately, the judge hearing Talula’s owners request for dismissal of the defamation suit was unmoved by Evanger’s tactics, and I believe was moved by the compassion of humanely ending Talula’s life rather than letting her continue to suffer when there was no hope. In fact, he stated, “It is hard to imagine that this more complete and accurate version of the story will persuade a jury that the food was not tainted, that Mael is lying, or that any claimed damages should be reduced because Mael herself is culpable because she chose to pull the plug. That is sort of like saying the coyotes technically killed the bleeding, suffering, dying deer on the highway, not the logging truck that ran over it. Except the coyotes presumably did not act in what they thought was the deer’s best interest.”

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