law & politics
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Leash
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed with a majestic natural setting. Thanks to forwardthinking citizen activists and environmentalists, generations have been able to enjoy the scenic beauty and open spaces of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
In 1972, Congress established Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a unit of the National Park Service—to, among other things, create an area that “concentrate[s] on serving the outdoor recreational needs of the people of the metropolitan area.”
For decades, these traditional “outdoor recreational needs” have included off-leash dog walking. In GGNRA’s San Francisco-based sites alone, off-leash areas (OLAs) from Crissy Field to Fort Funston occupy prime spots along the bay’s shoreline. Currently, a little less than 1 percent of all of GGNRA’s approximately 80,000 acres of protected lands are accessible for any kind of dog walking, and now even this small amount is in jeopardy.
In 1979, GGNRA adopted a Pet Policy that outlined off-leash rules and defined OLAs in its San Francisco and Marin County sites. However, over time, GGNRA began closing some of these off-leash areas and, in 2001, rescinded the 1979 policy. During this period, and throughout several subsequent legal challenges, howls of protest were heard across the region. Consequently, GGNRA stopped enforcing leash laws and began the long process of creating a special rule to manage dogs in its parklands.
In 2010, GGNRA released its draft dog-management plan, in which they proposed restricted alternatives in 22 areas. After roughly 4,700 people submitted comments regarding this deeply flawed document, GGNRA went back to the drawing board and recently released a supplemental plan.
Unfortunately, the new plan is just as restrictive, proposing extremely limited off-leash and on-leash areas, as well as no-dog areas, for historically dog-friendly Crissy Field, Muir Beach, Baker Beach, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra, among others.
In its attempts to balance off-leash dog recreation with other park uses, it appears that GGNRA is abusing its discretion by curtailing this use without adequate scientific support for the impacts they claim, and ignoring or discounting the demonstrated impact on existing recreational uses. The outcome of this final plan could have repercussions nationwide as policymakers watch to see what kinds of restrictions to dog-walking access the public will accept.
Crissy Field Dog Group supports a modified alternative to the 1979 Pet Policy that includes responsible offleash dog-walking in GGNRA lands (including those in San Mateo County), provides clear and concise signage and continuing-education opportunities such as fee-based off-leash training classes, allows each permitted professional dog walker to handle up to six dogs, and creates a monthly recreation roundtable so that different user groups can address visitor concerns.
We need you to become involved in this process. Please write to your elected officials and let them know what you want. The current deadline for public comment is December 4, but we have requested an extension.
If dogs are this severely restricted in GGNRA, city dog parks and neighborhoods bordering the parklands will be inundated with dog walkers, and there will likely be more conflict. Let’s create a dog-management plan that protects these scenic areas and allows everyone to enjoy them.
Details on the current proposal can be found at parkplanning.nps.gov/ dogplan. Go to crissyfielddog.org, eco-dog.org and saveoffleash.org for more information on the commenting process.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It will put dogs at risk
Wolf-hunting season is in progress in Wisconsin, which may soon become the only state that allows the use of dogs to hunt wolves. As of January 2012, wolves are no longer considered endangered in Wisconsin. The wolf population there has recovered naturally without any reintroductions and is now a healthy size, which is why wolves can be hunted.
At the beginning of December 2013, dogs may be legally permitted to be a part of those hunts. Right now, there is a temporary injunction that has the matter on hold. That is a result of a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources that was brought by humane societies in the state, groups that support animal welfare and individuals who oppose the use of dogs in wolf hunting. The basis of the lawsuit is that the state did not have sufficient rules to protect the safety of the dogs.
Restrictions about the use of dogs in the hunts do little to protect them. Dogs cannot be used at night in hunts and the maximum number of dogs that can be used at once is six. There are no other limitations.
There are obvious dangers to dogs who are in the territories of wolves. So far this year, more than 20 dogs have been killed by wolves in this state. All of them were dogs who were participating in bear hunts. Veterinarians typically treat many dogs each year who have been seriously or even fatally wounded by wolves while hunting bear.
More dogs in Wisconsin die while bear hunting than in Michigan, which may be because Wisconsin law allows people to be financially compensated to the tune of up to $2500 if their dogs are killed while engaged in this activity. The financial compensation provides an incentive for hunters to put their dogs at risk, or at least a disincentive to protect them from harm. Guardians of dogs killed by wolves while wolf hunting will not be eligible for compensation.
Proponents of the use of dogs to hunt wolves say that dogs will be kept safe by being trained to stop on command when they spot a wolf and that they will only go after single wolves. Scientists who are knowledgeable about wolves and wolf behavior have said unambiguously that the presence of dogs in wolf territories is dangerous for the dogs and puts them at great risk of injury and death.
The wolf hunt in Wisconsin this year has resulted in many kills so far, which means the hunt may not run through the end of February as planned. Five of the six zones in the state have been closed to wolf hunting for the season because quotas have been met. The state’s goal is 251 wolves, and as of November 26, 2013, hunters have come within 38 wolves of reaching it. If the total is reached before December 2, the season will close before dogs are permitted to be part of the hunt no matter what happens in court, although that does not prevent their use in future years.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Oregon’s new law will mean more requests
Oregon’s new anti-tethering law specifies that it will be considered second degree animal neglect if tethering a dog results in an injury to the animal, and first degree animal neglect if it causes the dog to be seriously injured or killed. The purpose of the law is to improve dogs’ quality of life and to enhance community safety. (Tethered dogs are more likely to bite than dogs who are not tied up.)
The law will likely create an increase in requests for help from the group Fences For Fido, which builds fences for dogs who would otherwise be tied up. Since 2009, they have given more freedom to over 230 dogs in Oregon and Washington by building them fences to free them from their chains.
Their work goes far beyond building fences. This volunteer organization also improves living conditions for dogs by providing shelter and veterinary care, including spay and neuter procedures when needed. They work hard to provide information to guardians about caring for dogs and the value of allowing them to participate in more family activities. Twice a year, they visit all the dogs they have helped in order to confirm that they remain unchained, healthy and safe. They report that many people with new fences spend more time with their dogs and that their connections to one another are stronger as a result.
Oregon’s new law, which takes effect in January 2014, will increase many people’s interest in fences for their dogs. Fences For Fido will have a lot of work to do, which means happier dogs, a safer community, and better relationships between people and their dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Yes, they’re pressing charges
The woman showing them the pit bull told Kenny Erickson and Ashley Preston that the dog took to them well. There’s a reason for that: Lexi belonged to them but had been stolen from their yard a couple of months earlier.
They had been searching for Lexi for months, and many people supported their efforts and helped them. Someone who knew that their dog had been stolen learned that a woman was giving away a dog who matched the description of Lexi, and told the couple. They rushed right over.
The woman trying to find the dog a new home admitted that the dog had been stolen. Now that her nephew, who had been caring for the dog, was in jail, she needed to find her a new home.
Kenny and Ashley didn’t let on that the dog was theirs because they wanted to make sure that legal channels were properly followed so that the thieves wouldn’t get away with the crime. Of course, the most important thing was being reunited with their dog, but they also wanted to make sure that people who steal dogs are punished. It took a lot of self-control not to just grab their dog and run, but they managed it.
After alerting police to the situation, they were happily able to reclaim their dog. The woman who was trying to find a home for her has been cited for possession of stolen property and faces charges of theft as well. Kenny and Ashley want people to understand that if they steal dogs, they could be caught and dislike that many people think that stealing a dog is no big deal. (I have no idea which people think it’s not a big deal, but then, I move in dog-loving social circles.)
After the pain of having their dog go missing, I’m so glad that this family’s story ended well.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
White House releases official statement
“We don’t support breed-specific legislation.” So begins an official statement from the White House. Breed-specific legislation includes any law or regulation that restricts which dogs people can have based on their breed. The most common breed to be banned is the pit bull. The statement goes on to mention research showing that breed-specific legislation is essentially ineffective at preventing dog bites and injuries, and that it is a waste of the public’s resources. The official statement is presumably a response to an online petition that requests a ban at the federal level on laws that target dogs based on their breed.
It has not been possible to determine accurately bite rates by breeds, and in the absence of reliable data, perceptions are often skewed towards whatever is reported in the media rather than the actual number of bites. At various times, certain breeds have had serious PR problems, and it changes over the years. Decades ago it was rottweilers and doberman pinschers who seemed to face the most discrimination. Now it’s pit bulls who are most often assumed by many to be dangerous just because of what they look like, and not based on any information about specific individuals and their behavior.
The statement from the White House supports the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that in order to improve public safety, we are better off with a community-based approach to dog bite prevention. The laws about dangerous dogs that deal with individuals who have a history of aggressive behavior are far more sensible than bans on entire breeds of dogs. Dogs vary greatly in their behavior and that variation is substantial within all breeds.
Our society has come a long way in stopping discrimination against people based on appearance, origin and who they are related to. It’s encouraging that we are moving in that direction when it comes to dogs, too. I’m so pleased about this big step towards eliminating discriminatory legislation. What’s your take on it?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Obamas welcome Sunny
If you’re famous, it’s news if you eat out, if you change your hairstyle and when you actually do something important. So, for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Tim Tebow, Hilary Swank and Mark Zuckerberg, acquiring new dogs has meant that stories and photos of their new dogs show up in the news. Barack Obama and his family are in the news all the time, of course, but there’s been a burst of activity about their dog since they welcomed Sunny into their family a few days ago.
Michelle Obama tweeted the news with a simple, “So excited to introduce the newest member of the Obama family—our puppy, Sunny!” Unlike Bo who truly was a puppy when he joined the Obama family, Sunny is technically an adolescent at 14-months of age, but I understand the general use of the term “puppy” for dogs of all ages. Both dogs are Portuguese Water Dogs.
Like Bo, Sunny was purchased from a breeder, which is a disappointment to many, including people at The Bark. The Obamas missed an opportunity to rescue or adopt a dog, which would likely have had a huge ripple affect and done so much to help many dogs find their way into the hearts and homes of loving families. As they did with Bo, they donated to a local Humane Society in honor of Sunny.
She’s a beautiful dog and I hope Sunny and Bo continue to entertain us with their joyful play sessions and tender moments with the Obama family. Personally, I am thrilled that they have each other for canine company, which I think is so valuable whether you’re living at The White House or not.
Dog's Life: Humane
Creating a snapshot of the state of animal sheltering in the U.S. can be a challenge. Bring up the topic in any group of dog-or cat-lovers and be prepared for a conversation that can move quickly from meaningful discussion to explosive argument. State and local political candidates are often confronted with questions regarding public-shelter policy, and even President Obama was criticized for not adopting a shelter dog.
Since at least the 1860s, animal sheltering has been an industry at odds with itself, splintered between 5500 welfare and humane associations and public, governmental animal control and sheltering groups and deeply torn by philosophical differences on strategies and programs intended to address pet overpopulation. However, all of the battling factions care very deeply and feel they are doing the best they can for the millions of dogs and cats in their care.
Most shelters operate on tight budgets, often relying on volunteers to supplement small employee rosters. Tending to the animals consumes the majority of their resources, and collecting and maintaining data come in a distant second. Further muddying the waters, most states don’t legislate direct oversight, although a few assign advisory boards, which tend to function in a cursory manner.
Though sociological research into human and animal interaction focused on family, shared meanings between people and pets, euthanasia work and identity reflects a paradigm shift in how we view our companion animals, applied research—studies of animalsheltering operations—has inched forward more slowly. This issue of The Bark features a trio of innovative programs that concentrate on increasing adoption and significantly decreasing euthanasia. Many other shelters also work to creatively address similar problems.
Applied research can assist these dedicated leaders and volunteers. To determine the validity of new strategies and establish a baseline for future comparisons, basic statistical analysis and data collection are required. Regrettably, at this point, we hit another wall. Not only are organizations reluctant to share essential data for fear of being stigmatized for euthanizing companion animals, when data is available, shelters may code or define intake or outtake procedures differently, which negatively affects reliable data collection.
As a PhD student in the University of Louisville’s sociology department, I have spent summers collecting information on policies and programming from public animal shelters in Kentucky, and on the canines and felines held therein. Right now, I’m working to transcribe in-depth interviews with animal-shelter directors about their day-to-day work and leadership. This research is important and necessary to help improve Kentucky’s shelter system.
My next project will focus on nationwide data collection and, from my current position as an intern with The Bark, I’ll be asking for your help. Over the coming weeks, look for a survey request and an opportunity to participate via in-depth interviews. I hope that leaders of organizations, animal-shelter workers, volunteers and readers who have adopted furry family members will contribute to this research.
Being an unequivocal dog person, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the opposing sentiment—that not everybody loves dogs. But this point of view was made abundantly clear this past week as I caught up to the growing opposition to dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area, fueled by rants produced in local media. These claims suggest that the societal scales have tipped too far in favor of dogs and their human companions, and that dogs are pampered and over-indulged. Last week, the very popular call-in public radio show KQED’s “Forum” asked the question “Is the Bay Area Too Dog Friendly?”—the program description didn’t mince words: The Bay Area is known for being a dog-loving region, but has our canine adoration reached an unhealthy level? Dogs now accompany us into grocery stores, cafes, and even offices, but some argue that we’re excessively spoiling our dogs at the expense of others. We discuss whether our region really has a dog-coddling problem. The hour-long program can be heard online.
The show featured a local dog rights and off-leash activist; a representative from the SF Department of Health; and a tech writer from Slate.com whose recent article “No, I Do Not Want to Pet Your Dog” (with the tagline “It’s time to take America back”) inspired the program and blasts the untenable overindulgence of San Francisco dogs and their owners. Many examples of irresponsibility and misbehaving committed by dogs and people were cited—dogs damaging city parks, knocking over joggers while their owners remained unaware and unresponsive; attacking horses on trails, thoughtless, selfish dog owners who mislabel their pets as service dogs to gain unfettered access everywhere, aggressive dogs, untrained dogs, and unwanted invitations “to pet my dog.” The activist on the panel, and many of the dog-loving callers, also tried to add a more reasoned and balanced voice and pointed out all the enormous benefits that dogs bring to the community and individuals but recognized that a “few” bad apples do tend to spoil it for the many. The tech author of the Slate article, Farhad Manjoo, a father of a two-year-old boy and an avowed nondog person—argued that parents like himself “rein in” their children far more often than do dog owners. He fueled the heated discussion that veered to the “dogs are worse than children” comparison, and a debate on which Bay Area parent (canine or human) was more irresponsible. He goes on to lament:
But dog owners? They seem to suffer few qualms about their animals’ behavior. That’s why there are so many dogs running around at the park, jumping up on the bench beside you while you’re trying to read a book, the owner never asking if it’s OK with you. That’s why, when you’re at a café, the dog at the neighboring table feels free to curl up under your seat. That’s why there’s a dog at your office right at this moment and you’re having to pretend that he’s just the cutest.
Read the full article here.
It would be easy to dismiss these claims as the grumbling of a small but vocal anti-dog contingent, but to do so would be ignoring the fact that there do exist some serious issues with dogs in our community, such as uncontrollable dogs and their clueless guardians at parks, and dog walkers with far too many dogs, for examples. These public debates tend to exaggerate but who of us have not seen or been the victim of some incorrigible dog guardian’s behavior. Or witnessed the unsupervised “play” at parks that can cause harm to both dogs and people? As a community that has fought and lobbied to expand our rights and those of our dogs to have access to public and private space—it falls upon dog people to listen to these grievances, reach across the divide and understand the real problems that exist, and do our best to tone down the rancor and to find solutions. Wouldn’t it be a shame to backslide into the “old days” when dogs where an uncommon and unwelcome sight?
The Bay Area has always prided itself on being at the forefront of the “dog-friendly” trend, and, so, perhaps it is among the first communities to suffer the backlash of being “overly-permissive” to dogs. Reading the comments on Forum and Slate, it’s clear that dogs are not every person’s best friend. In fact, popular sentiment that dogs are out of control was running 3 to 1—not an encouraging sign. Is this a concern that is creeping into your community? Do you sense that dogs have worn out their welcome? What can dog people do to stem this outcry?
Dog's Life: Humane
A partnership aims to save animals
Raise taxes to save animals? In this economy?
When a grassroots coalition of animal lovers, sick at heart about Miami-Dade County’s perennially high shelter death rate, proposed asking voters to do just that, veteran rescuers responded with a resounding: "Yeah, right."
But on election day last November, a solid majority of voters—65 percent— did exactly that via straw ballot, setting the county on a clear path to fulfill the no-kill goal that county commissioners had adopted five months earlier, albeit without providing funding to make it happen.
The initiative, Pets’ Trust, should raise $20 million annually through property taxes for measures designed to reduce intake at the county’s high-kill shelter, and the intake rate’s main driver, overpopulation.
The trust will operate independently of the county’s Animal Services Department, funding grants to accomplish what Animal Services can’t afford to do. The unpaid, 13-member board will include the department’s director, veterinarians, rescue-group leaders, sheltering experts and knowledgeable lay people.
The cornerstone of the campaign: free and low-cost high-volume spay/ neuter clinics and public education.
Bolstered by the straw ballot’s solid win, the county commission is poised to enact legislation this year that would add about $20 to the average property owner’s tax bill. It will "sunset" periodically so that voters can monitor its progress and decide whether to quit or continue.
It’s a unique approach that trust organizers expect will inspire similar efforts nationwide. There’s already one well under way in neighboring Broward County, and "how did you do it?" inquiries are coming in from around the country.
As the Florida Legislature kicked off its 2013 session in early March, organizers sped to Tallahassee and secured sponsors in both chambers for a statewide Pets Trust bill.
Michael Rosenberg, the Miami-area businessman who conceived Pets’ Trust, estimates that Miami-Dade—which kills more than half of the 37,000 animals who end up at the shelter—can reach its no-kill goal in four years once the clinics are up and running. How this Miami miracle came to pass owes equally to one man’s determination and to a fractious rescue community’s willingness to shelve philosophical differences and work toward a longsought and seemingly impossible outcome: keeping dogs and cats out of the county shelter’s euthanasia room.
In a mere 10 months and on a shoestring budget of $70,000, trust proponents managed to sway key commissioners and nearly 500,000 supportive voters. They reached out to more than two dozen animal-welfare authorities, who consulted on the plan’s proposed mission and structure. The roster includes experts from Best Friends Animal Society, the ASPCA, the Petco Foundation and the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Aggressive use of social media, an adorable "spokes-puppy" who charmed commissioners before a crucial vote and publicity gimmicks like the 60-year-old Rosenberg’s weekend in a dog run at the shelter helped close the deal.
But Rosenberg, who’d never been involved in an animal-related cause, mainly credits others: rescue advocate Rita Schwartz, spay-neuter activist Lindsay Gorton and a small army of volunteers who took to the streets to convince skeptical citizens that even in a time of historic budget shortfalls and human-services cutbacks, innocent animals deserved a chance to survive.
The "warm and fuzzy” approach swayed some, but for others, there was a sound economic argument to be made. It costs about $300 to house, feed and medically treat an ultimately doomed animal during the mandatory "stray hold" period. In contrast, spay/neuter costs $65.
"I believe when you engage the community as we did and educate with the facts and no negative campaigning and pointing blame, here’s what happens," said Rosenberg, who owns a promotional- item customizing company. "People around the country can’t get over it. They’re amazed."
It all began when Rosenberg, a Chamber of Commerce booster in the Miami-Dade community of Kendall, heard about the shelter’s high kill rate and couldn’t quite believe it. He requested and was given permission to spend a day in the euthanasia room, from which he emerged a changed man. Deeply disturbed that 60 to 70 animals were dying every day because nobody wanted them and the shelter had no space, he vowed to accomplish what many had tried to do and failed: end the carnage.
Long an underfunded bureaucratic afterthought, Miami-Dade Animal Services had been run by the public works and police departments before it became its own department in 2005, headed for the first time by a veterinarian and given a general-fund budget (another first). Previously, it had subsisted on fees and fines, and focused on enforcement rather than adoption.
At times, the kill rate topped 75 percent, casting the county’s threadbare shelter as a notorious death factory.
The veterinarian, Dr. Sara Pizano, brought a different perspective in 2005. She upgraded the open-admission facility, increased adoptions and reduced euthanasia. But poverty, an out-of-control feral cat population and entrenched customs in a multicultural county of 2.5 million people continued to fuel the high intake. Some 100 animals come in daily to a shelter that can humanely house no more than 400. Most years, owners reclaim fewer than 1,500 lost pets.
Even at its peak of $10 million, the department’s budget never came close to meeting its needs. Then came the financial collapse of 2008, and with it, deep cuts to all county departments.
Pizano left in 2011, replaced by veteran county administrator Alex Muñoz, who faced the same lack of political will to adequately fund Animal Services as did his predecessors.
In late 2011, Mike Rosenberg was fresh off a victorious, against-all-odds battle with the county’s water and sewer department over billing practices. The kind of guy who doesn’t hear the word "no," he decided on a novel approach: no more begging or "guilting" the commissioners.
Instead, he adopted the model of another local initiative, the Children’s Trust, a public/private partnership that provides dedicated tax revenue for services to at-risk children. Voters approved the plan, but only after a decade-long, nearly $2 million lobbying effort.
When Pets’ Trust proponents applied to the Petco Foundation for a grant before the election, foundation president Paul Jolly, knowing Miami-Dade’s reputation, was so skeptical that he initially declined. Then came the election. "If I would have picked a community for this to happen, it would not be Miami," says Jolly. "For something like this to be accepted by the citizens and commissioners, it’s sign of the apocalypse!"
He finds the notion of a public/private partnership and voter ratification "intriguing … We thought it was a great template program to be used in other parts of the U.S." He signed on to help.
"I agreed to be on the advisory committee— and the cheering committee … This seems [to be] light-years above what any other community is doing in terms of animal welfare."
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
What’s gotten into food safety?
We’re barely halfway into the year and already, there have been a flurry of pet food recalls. The sheer number of brands has been surprising, as have the names of the brands involved; we’ve seen recalls from some of the industry’s most respected companies. How and what we feed our dogs (and ourselves, for that matter) is such a fundamental issue that we’ve decided to do a series of articles on pet food safety, starting with a report on a few of the most recent recalls. We examine the reasons behind them, lessons learned and what we might expect in the future.
Until very recently, all recalls have been voluntary (a confusing term that can lead consumers to believe that a recall is optional), triggered for a variety of reasons: mislabeling, misbranding, the inclusion of potential allergens or adulterants, or contamination with a pathogen such as one of the varieties of salmonella. And some products are recalled simply because they were produced at the same factory during the same timeframe as the affected food.
So far, no pet food recall has been as widespread as the one in 2007, which involved the Menu melamine scandal. If Hurricane Katrina taught policymakers the importance of the human/ pet bond, the ’07 Menu Foods recall did the same for the focus on the safety of the food that we feed our pets. As William Hubbard, a former FDA official, notes, “I do think that this pet food thing has shown people … that something needs to be fixed. If this is not a wake-up call, then people are so asleep, they are catatonic.”
It took a while for Congress to fully awaken, but in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given more power with the passage and then signing into law by President Obama of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The act marks the most sweeping food-safety reform since the Great Depression.
This new act will soon be putting broader issues into the spotlight. For the first time, the FDA will be empowered to more aggressively regulate and enforce preventive measures. Recalls will no longer just be voluntary, but rather, can be mandatory. In our opinion, given this new regulatory power and the plethora of places from which pet food manufacturers source their ingredients, the number of recalls will surely rise. Closer attention and accountability are good for consumers and the animals we feed, and definitely something we need to be informed about.
RECALL CLASS OF 2013
We have the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to thank for finding what might be the contributing factor: the department identified antibiotic residues not approved for poultry in the U.S. in the treats. This spurred Del Monte, the makers of Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats, and Nestle Purina, manufacturers of Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, as well as others, to finally initiate a nationwide removal of these products from store shelves.
Though the FDA continued to claim that “there is no evidence that raises health concerns, and that these results are highly unlikely to be related to the reports of illnesses,” the findings were enough to convince the slow-moving food industry that they needed to get the products out of circulation. The FDA, which still considers this to be an open investigation, notes that they “welcome additional information about New York’s testing methodology …” To date, the treats are thought to have contributed to the deaths of roughly 500 dogs and nine cats. If New York’s state inspectors had not found the illegal antibiotic residue, those treats would still be available. Chalk one up for the state team!
DOMESTIC PRODUCTS TAKE A HIT
In February of this year, Kasel had the dubious distinction of being the first pet food manufacturer to possibly face a first-ever FDA/FSMA mandatory recall notice, a threat based on inspections by an FDA team that found a number of infractions: “All of the finished pet treat product samples and 48 out of 87 environmental samples collected during the inspection tested positive for salmonella. More than 10 different species of salmonella were found in the firm’s products and manufacturing facility, indicating multiple sources of contamination.” The jerky treats were sold through a number of big-box retailers, including Target, Petco, Sam’s Club and Costco.
Other jerky products made in Kasel’s Denver plant were drawn into the recall as well. Bixbi, an up-and-coming independent brand from Boulder, had batches of their products swept up, and Nutri-Vet, a more established brand, was also named, although it was noted that none of these products had tested positive for bacteria. (I contacted the owners of Bixbi and Kasel, who responded to my questions; I also placed numerous calls to Nutri-Vet, who didn’t reply.)
Treats aren’t the only products in which salmonella has been found, however. Natura, a premium holistic brand now owned by Procter & Gamble, had its first recall experience this year after one of their dry-food products tested positive for salmonella by Michigan inspectors. When I spoke in late March to Jason Taylor, a P&G spokesperson, he said the company was still in the process of trying to recreate the production situation at the time the contamination happened; they were, however, sure that it had occurred during a post-extrusion step. “We have an extrusion [cooking] process that is scientifically proven to kill pathogens … So it probably happened either at the dryer or packaging line.” According to Taylor, the company has a complex manufacturing process in place to ensure that their products are contamination- free. Their microbial-mitigation process, which has more than 100 steps, addresses each step the food goes through, from raw material through packaging.
Taylor said that the company was fairly confident that the problem was limited to products manufactured during the two-week period beginning December 17, 2012, and ending January 2, 2013. Since then, we learned that they extended the recall for products manufactured up through March 24, 2013— making this a larger-scale recall.
RAW FOOD PRODUCTS UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
While most of Honest Kitchen’s rawfood sources are in North America, they also get some produce from Europe and exotic fruits from Asia. Surprisingly, they get their parsley from Egypt. Yearround availability of organic and/or human-grade ingredients at a reasonable price is one of the challenges faced by smaller food manufacturers like Honest Kitchen, and is the reason for this wide-ranging sourcing.
Since this incident, Honest Kitchen has switched to another parsley supplier (also in Egypt) and added a new step to their processing of dried herbs and leafy greens, treating them with a gentle steam sterilization to protect against microbial pathogens.
More raw food companies were hit with recalls in March, when the Minnesota State Department of Agriculture found salmonella, first in Steve’s Real Food Turducken patties, and a week later in a two-pound tube of Bravo! Chicken Blend raw frozen food diet the agency had purchased from a local pet store.* I talked with veterinarian Heidi Kassenborg, director of Dairy and Food Inspections for Minnesota, to get a better idea about her state’s pathogen inspection process.
Many have observed that while salmonella is the most prevalent foodborne pathogen, few dogs actually become ill from it, and I asked her why the FDA and her agency have such a strong concern about its presence in pet food. She explained that they are charged with finding adulterants in food, and “in food items, salmonella is considered to be an adulterant.” As for the USDA’s salmonella-tolerance level for raw poultry (now at 7.5 percent, down from 20 percent in 1996), she confirmed that “in raw food, like poultry and beef, it is not considered to be an adulterant.” Basically, there is no tolerance for adulterants in finished food items, and even raw diet is considered a “food item.”
Kassenborg explained the high concern about pet food, saying that since pet food is handled by humans, they are exposed to any pathogens that may be in it; these pathogens can also be excreted in the pet’s stool. Given that salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the frail or elderly, and those with weakened immune systems, this is indeed a compelling reason for concern.
She went on to say that there would be increased surveillance now that raw diet has tested positive for pathogens. “Once things are found in one food type, they start looking at it and testing more. We have an obligation to find out if it is a widespread problem. And if so, is there a way to produce it better without it becoming contaminated?”
Doug Lueders, supervisor of Minnesota’s Commercial Feed Regulatory Program and the person responsible for its product-sampling plan, concurs. “If we have a category that has had few [contaminants] or none, we may switch our emphasis to one where we have had a problem. I think we will raise the percentage [of resources] that we have devoted to raw in the past; that, however, will be at the expense of something else.”
Resource allocation is a real issue. Other states have registered positive hits on items like jerky and kibble, so even though there might not be direct interstate coordination of efforts, Lueders says, since “Michigan found salmonella in one brand of pet food, it probably doesn’t serve much practical purpose for us to look at the same brand ourselves. There is an old adage that says an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, so we wouldn’t continue to test the same pet food for salmonella in hopes of finding more salmonella, or hoping to find that it is clean …”
THE PRICE OF SAFETY
Prior to processing a food in their facilities, suppliers must certify that the food is pathogen-free. Throughout the manufacturing process, pathogens are tested for and eradicated. A few NARPA members use what is known as highpressure processing or high-pressure pasteurization (HPP), which disrupts a pathogen’s cell walls. Miller says that this very expensive system is considered by the general food industry to be stateof- the-art in controlling pathogens.
Companies like Bravo! also batchtest and follow a test-and-hold system, meaning that finished products are not shipped from their plants until negative pathogen reports are in hand. A Bravo! spokesperson described the company’s process: “Most established companies in raw diet own their own facilities. We [at Bravo] come out of the meat business and our facility is a USDA facility for human food, so we have standards we have to keep up. We have a USDA inspector who checks the plant daily to make sure that [things are] being done by the books [and] we have a HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points] plan in place. What consumers should be looking for are companies who use ‘test and release’ and batch testing, and have HACCP plans.” He also noted that the company’s website will soon have a function that will allow consumers to enter an item number and “best used by” date and receive test results for E. coli, Listeria and salmonella.
This type of high-level testing increases the cost of the final product; as Miller observes, “you can’t add a whole level of pathogen controls and not have a resulting increase in cost to consumers.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
But while smaller brands can be devastated by such events, companies who have worked hard and long to develop a loyal customer base can, most likely, recover from them, as can internationally distributed brands such as Natura.
I don’t believe that most of these pet food companies and manufacturers acted recklessly. But after a recall, it shouldn’t be business as usual. Measures need to be taken to identify where the contamination came into the system, and pathogen controls need to be improved. Changes need to be made—for some businesses, that may mean switching manufacturers, raw-material suppliers, warehouses or distributors, or even instructing pet stores on proper handling and storage techniques for their products.
It’s also critically important that they pay attention to how customers are notified (and receive compensation or refunds). For example, I commend Honest Kitchen for quickly alerting its customers via email, social media and website notices. Retaining the trust of customers requires companies to be transparent, forthcoming and ready to make production and sourcing modifications, as they and a few other companies have done.
Realistically speaking, it’s unlikely that the food system can be made 100 percent safe. Nonetheless, we need to know we can trust that those who make the food we feed our companion animals are held to the same standards as those who supply the food we eat ourselves.
Over the years, we’ve become well aware of the concept of food sourcing. In addition to knowing exactly what goes into the food we feed our dogs and cats, we also need to know where it comes from. How the finished products are processed, packaged and distributed is also vitally important. As P&G’s Taylor observed, pathogen elimination is challenging when working with large quantities of raw meat and poultry.
Do some food processors take shortcuts to save money? For some, that might be the case, as evidenced by the huge 2012 recall involving a Diamond co-processing plant in Gaston, S.C. , which ultimately affected 17 brands representing more than 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food. Because a rare strain of Salmonella infantis was found in some product samples, all brands, ranging from high-end Wellness to Costco’s brand, Kirkland, were recalled. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 49 people in 20 states and two in Canada who came in contact with pet food made at this facility are confirmed to have been affected. When the FDA inspected the plant, they found numerous problems with the contamination-containment processes, including the use of cardboard and duct tape on some of the equipment. How they got away with this—how they managed to fly under the radar of the companies for which they were making food—is anyone’s guess.
Yet another problem that cries out for better monitoring involves actually getting recalled products off store shelves. A reporter for a Colorado television station found bags of the tainted Chinese jerky in stores such as Safeway, K-Mart and Albertsons almost a month after it had been recalled. I learned about this from attorney Jennifer Reba Edwards of the Animal Law Center in Wheat Ridge, Colo. As Edwards points out, “The bigger problem is [that] once recalled, the products are still getting to the end user. Retailers are not pulling the products from the shelf and you can buy them online; that is almost a bigger problem than the recall itself—preventing it [from] being available to the end user.” Who is responsible for this step? Who should be held accountable? This is definitely a problem to track and one that consumers need to be aware of.
Within the dog community, the issue of salmonella is controversial; some question its potential to harm dogs. However, I don’t believe this is debatable. There are too many instances in which people have been damaged by cross-contamination or mishandling in the home of food intended for pets. The FDA considers it to be an adulterant in both human and animal foods, as well they should. More to the point, as Jennifer Edwards says, “I’m pregnant; I would really be upset if I were to be exposed to salmonella. It goes beyond protecting our animals—we have to protect our people as well.”
If ever there was a reason to look at the big picture, this is it. We have only one food supply, and it should be safe for both humans and animals. This is, and ought to be, the standard that foodsafety regulators, the food industry and we—the consumers—need to meet.
*A Bravo! company spokesperson told me that the product that tested positive had been tested by a third-party inspector before leaving the plant and had a negative-contamination finding. In an unusual step, the FDA allowed that point to be included in their recall statement.
Copyright © 1997-2016 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc