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Grieving Together
An Okla. couple is creating a memorial to pets poisoned by melamine

[Editor’s note: It’s been two years since melamine-tainted pet food destroyed the lives of countless dogs and cats and their people. Yesterday, Bark contributor Lisa Wade McCormick reported for Consumer Affairs.com on how one Oklahoma couple has decided to remember the pets they lost.]

  A grieving pet owner is creating a memorial to honor the thousands of dogs and cats that died or became seriously ill during the 2007 melamine-tainted pet food recall.   The Oklahoma woman and her husband, who lost six pets in the recall that “nuked” their lives, have donated five acres of land near Keystone Lake in Tulsa for the sanctuary they’ve named Vindication.    The memorial is scheduled to open on June 12, 2010.   “The animals that were lost or are still suffering need to be counted and acknowledged,” says the woman, who wants to remain anonymous. “I want people to feel like their animals did matter. This memorial is to honor the bond between animals and humans.”   Creating the memorial is also the donor’s way of helping pet owners deal with heartbreaking loss of their beloved dogs and cats.   Such a loss can shatter someone’s life, she says. It devastated hers.   She and her husband lost two dogs and four cats because of melamine-tainted food.   “By March 17, one day after Menu announced its recall, I had three dead animals and three who were dying slowly,” the woman says. “I have cleaned vomit and bloody urine and know what happens when pets die of catastrophic kidney failure. And I can’t tell you how it hurts me to open my door and walk into an empty house.   “But this (memorial) isn’t about my loss,” she adds. “It’s about the thousands and thousands of pet owners out who are being stabbed in the backs. There is no justice or mercy for them or their pets. And there are no safer pet foods out there. I’m doing this as one grieving pet family to the rest of those out there. And I honestly feel this will help their hearts’ heal.”   The donor plans to transform the five acres of Oklahoma’s ancient Cross Timbers -- covered with 500-year-old oak trees -- into a memorial garden that will feature cascading pathways lined with flowers, park benches, and handmade stones. Each stone will bear the name of a dog or cat that died or is still sick because of the contaminated pet food, the donor says.   “I will make all the stones at no cost to pet owners,” she told ConsumerAffairs.com. “I expect I will be overwhelmed, but I felt compelled to do this for the pet people. It’s time somebody did something right for them.”   Read Lisa Wade McCormick’s complete report for ConsumerAffairs.com.

 

News: Guest Posts
FDA Now Tweeting
Stay on top of food safety news

Receive alerts about pet food recalls, medication updates and animal safety tips via tweet: The Food and Drug Adminisration's Center for Veterinary Medicine is now on Twitter. If you're wondering if you need the information, consider this: There were two food-safety tweets in the first two weeks.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Diets for Dogs
Navigating the canine obesity problem.

This time of year, many people have diets and weight loss on the brain. But humans aren’t the only ones that could stand to lose a few pounds. A study by Pfizer Animal Health found that veterinarians consider 47 percent of their patients to be overweight, making them susceptible to a myriad of health problems and possibly a shorter life span.

Earlier this month, I wrote about exercising with your pup, but for obese pets, dietary changes may be necessary. In the last few years, inspired by both the growing human and canine obesity problem, many brands of low calorie animal diets have cropped up. 

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, looked at almost 50 of these so called diet dog foods. The researchers found a wide range of calories, ranging from 217 to 440 kilocalories per cup.

The study also found that many dogs fed according to the directions on the back of the packaging would not result in weight loss and might even cause the pets to gain weight. 

I’ve never followed the feeding guidelines on the back of food packages. Quantity depends not only on the brand of food you feed, but on your particular dog and his activity level. I routinely feel my dogs’ ribs to regulate their diet. If I can feel too much, I increase the amount I feed and vice versa.

If you’re unsure how much you should be feeding your dog or how to tell if your pup is overweight, discuss proper diet and identifying characteristics of obesity with your veterinarian. Check out PetEducation.com’s online resources to educate yourself before you get to the veterinarian’s office.

How do you regulate your dog’s diet?

News: Guest Posts
Are Vegan Dogs the Future?
Humane Society goes into the dog food biz

Earlier this month, the Humane Society of the United States announced it would be marketing an all-natural, vegetarian, organic dog food called Humane Choice—responding to the public’s desire for a cruelty-free option with ingredients we can trust. I admire the work of the HSUS, but I greeted this announcement with a big, Huh?

  First, is it really a good idea for a nonprofit advocacy organization to go into a commercial venture supplying food to the animals they are supposedly working to protect? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Especially, when food safety is such a controversial and important issue.   Second, vegetarian dogs? Really? No animal protein—someone is going to have to explain this to my dogs. To me, this sort of feels like the last straw in remaking dogs’ in our own image. I’m no food expert but Susan Thixton at TruthAboutDogFood.com isn’t liking what she sees on the label. Here’s what she has to say about the first five ingredients: “Organic ground canola seed, organic brown rice, organic soybean meal, organic buckwheat, organic flaxseed. This dog food would rate in Petsumer Report three paw prints on a five paw print scale. It does not contain chelated or proteinated minerals (for better absorption); it does not contain probiotics (to build a stronger immune system).  An email sent yesterday (2/5/10) requesting country of origin information of ingredients has not been responded to; my guess would be some vitamins and minerals are sourced from China.”   And don’t get me started on the fact that the food comes from Uruguay. What about supporting our farmers? Not to mention the environmental impact of creating a new product that has to be sent from another hemisphere. I really want to hear what Bark readers think. Is this the future? Does it make sense to you?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Keeping Track of Recalls
FDA compiles pet food recalls in a searchable database

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched a searchable pet food recall database, similar to the resource that already exists for humans. The database contains the 971 pet food recalls that have occurred since the beginning of 2006. It’s scary to think that there have been almost a thousand recalls in the past four years alone.

I’m glad, however, to see that the FDA is responding to the growing need for resources like the new database and the Pet Health and Safety Widget that they created last year. The best part about the pet food recall database is the ability to easily see if a company has a bad track record, information that everyone should have at their fingertips. I’m hoping that the FDA will make a similar database for pet drug recalls.

I’ve always relied on the FDA web site and various dog e-mail lists to keep myself informed of the latest recalls. The database and the widget definitely make this easier. How do you stay on top of the growing list of recalls?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Providing for War Dogs
Deployed military pups face a shortage of rations.

Military canines in the United States date back to the First World War  Now America has the largest fleet of working dogs in the world with over 2,800 military pups. Over 600 of those dogs are currently deployed in the Middle East, where their handlers face a tough predicament when it comes to the animals’ care. 

The recent increase in troops sent to Afghanistan has led to a surge in military dogs, which has also caused a shortage in quality dog food. These high performing canines are in the field everyday, searching for explosives and accompanying patrolling soldiers. They require a special diet made in the United States that’s high in protein and other nutrients. 

The food is shipped from the U.S. to Pakistan and trucked to the troops in Afghanistan. However, space on the vehicles is limited and the priority is placed on transporting human food and supplies. The unexpected increase in both troops -- human and canine -- has put a strain on the system.

I understand that this is a hard situation all around. I can’t imagine how hard it is to deliver sufficient quality supplies. But it’s ultimately the government’s responsibility to only send troops overseas if their basic needs can be met -- human and canine.

While researching what pet lovers could do to help the K-9 teams, I discovered Girl Scout Troop 60667’s Care Packages for K9s project.  Last November, this group from Macon, Georgia wanted to show their support for military dogs and their handlers. 

The Girl Scouts started Care Packages for K9s to assemble both canine and human supplies such as training aids, grooming tools, medical supplies, and protective gear for the dogs, as well as cards created by the Girl Scouts. As of this month, they’ve collected over $3,000 in donations and have shipped over 360 pounds of supplies and equipment to 32 military working dog teams stationed all over the world.  

While Care Packages for K9s doesn’t send food, the treats and supplies are sure to bring cheer to the handlers and their trusty dogs in Afghanistan.

News: Guest Posts
More Salmonella Contamination Feared
FDA issues a “health alert” for Merrick Beef Filet Squares Dog Treats

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to consumers not to use Merrick Beef Filet Squares for dogs distributed by Merrick Pet Care with a package date of “Best By 111911” because the product may be contaminated with Salmonella. This is not the same as a recall. The report says: “Although no illnesses associated with these products have been reported, the FDA is advising consumers in possession of these products not to handle or feed them to their pets.” Read the complete advisory for additional information on Salmonella infection.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Full Belly for the Holidays
PetParadise coordinates a three-state food drive for needy pets

In March, I wrote about the emergence of pet soup kitchens, whose numbers are growing amid the current economic state. Unfortunately, not all communities have this type of resource available for those in need. 

The multi-state pet boarding and daycare resort, PetParadise, noticed that, across the board, many people were struggling to keep their pets, while donations were down for area rescues. As a result, the company decided to team up with local shelters, food banks, and super markets to coordinate the first annual Food for Paws, a three-state food drive for needy pets during the holiday season. 

The food collected at their Jacksonville, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., locations was given directly to families in need. The donations at their Houston, Tex., location went to Rescue Bank and helped more than 73 area rescue groups.

To increase participation, PetParadise offered a free night of boarding to people who donated 20 pounds of food. Their efforts resulted in over four tons of pet food for hungry pets, an amazing feat, particularly for their first year.

It’s great to see communities come together to help each other out. Food drives, like Food for Paws, not only collect supplies for those in need, but also bring attention to the economy’s effect on pets. Hopefully more companies will be inspired to use their resources to support events like Food for Paws in the future.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Food Claims Allowed to Be Deceptive
Normal advertising laws don’t apply.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that advertising can’t be deceptive and that it must be truthful. It’s not clear why this does not apply to pet foods, but apparently it doesn’t. In fact, according to the American Association of Feed Control Officials, the labels on pet foods can have qualified or unqualified claims, and these may be direct or indirect. In other words, pet food labels can say things, such as “balanced nutrition for a long life,” or “natural complete nutrition,” or “helps maintain healthy body weight” whether these statements are true or not.

This seems odd given the regulations on advertising in other areas, including human food. What if candy wrappers had claims, such as “balanced nutrition for healthy body weight” or “it’s just like eating spinach.” Surely this sort of misleading and deceptive advertising should not be allowed on pet food labels either.

Obviously, avoiding commercial pet food in favor of raw food or other diets more closely related to what dogs ate several decades ago is one way to avoid the problem of misleading advertising altogether. Still, for people who use prepared dog or cat food regularly or even occasionally, truth in advertising could help keep pets healthier.

News: Guest Posts
Dog Bowl Bailout
One-time offer aims to get free chow to dogs in need.

The folks at Dogswell, a pet food company in Los Angeles, are reaching out to Americans who’ve been stung by the economic downtown/collapse/crisis (take your pick) by offering a free bag of dry dog food to the first 10,000 eligible people to submit a Bow-Wow Bailout redemption form, through May 15, 2009. It’s about time dogs got a little piece of the recovery action. We love a marketing strategy that puts food in the bowls of dogs who need it.

Individuals and families with long-term challenges feeding their dogs may find food support at their local animal shelter or food bank. According to JoAnna Lou’s story in The Bark (March/April 2009), at least 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need. Visit the Humane Society of the United States for more information about assistance in your area.

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