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Jury Rules Against Hartz
Beloved bulldog died 35 hours after flea drops were applied
Will ruling against Hartz for flea treatment lead to changes?

[Editor’s note: We’ve blogged a bit about adverse reactions in dogs due to spot-on pesticide treatments and flea collars (see links below). Yesterday, Bark contributor Lisa Wade McCormick reported for ConsumerAffairs.com on what may be the first successful small claims case involving topical flea treatments. A portion of her story is reprinted here.]

A 72-year-old dog owner has won what may be a landmark decision against the country’s leading maker of pet care products and fueled the ongoing debate over the safety of topical flea and tick treatments.

A Texas jury awarded Frank Bowers $4,440.75 in the small claims court action he filed against Hartz Mountain Corporation. In this David-versus-Goliath court battle—believed to be the first small claims court action of its kind—Bowers alleged that Hartz Ultra Guard Pro Flea and Tick Drops caused the death of his beloved Olde English Bulldog, Diesel.

The six-member jury deliberated less than 30 minutes before reaching a unanimous decision in favor of Bowers, who was widely considered the underdog in the case.

“When the bailiff walked in the courtroom and said we have a unanimous decision, I nearly passed out,” said Bowers, who represented himself in the court action. “The jury said ‘we find Mr. Bowers’ integrity outweighed what was presented by (Hartz) attorney. He lost an animal of value and all costs he’s out are awarded to him.’”

“I just literally went numb,” Bowers added. “I caught up with three jurors in the hallway after the hearing. All I said to them was: ‘thank you, thank you, thank you.’ And they just said: ‘we did our job.’”

Hartz told ConsumerAffairs.com that it believed the case was “without merit,” but did not appeal because of the time and cost involved.

Sense of justice

For Bowers, the jury’s decision brings closure and a sense of justice to an emotional issue that started at 8:30 p.m. on August 7, 2008. On that warm summer night in Texas, Bowers applied Hartz Ultra Guard Pro Flea and Tick Drops to the 14-month-old, 68-pound, Diesel.

“I nipped off the top of the tube and put it on his back,” Bowers recalled. “I precisely used it as directed – nothing more, nothing less than directed.” By early the next morning Diesel had become gravelly ill.

“I went to my garage to work and I smelled this odor from excretion,” Bowers said. “Diesel was laying on the floor. He was shaking and having spasms of some kind. And he was passing a horrible odor of diarrhea.” Bowers called his daughter, who told him to immediately take the ailing dog to the vet.

Diesel’s health continued its rapid decline during the ride to his vet’s office, Bowers said.

“He continued to have bowel movements on the way. When we got to the vet’s office, he couldn’t walk. They got one of those stainless steel tables and took him back to an exam room.”

The veterinarian asked Bowers a battery of questions about Diesel, including one that caught him off guard.

“The vet asked me if I’d put any flea treatment on him,” Bowers said. “And I said: ‘yes, last night.’ I told him what it was and went back to the store to get a tube to show him.”

The vet, he said, took one look at the Hartz Ultra Guard Pro Flea and Tick Drops and shook his head. “He said: ‘Oh, my God. He’s going to have kidney failure.’”

By 4 o’clock the next morning, Diesel’s kidneys had shut down.

“He was in total renal failure,” Bowers said. “The vet wanted permission to euthanize him. I said you know what’s best and I don’t want any animal to suffer. “I picked Diesel up around 7 a.m. and took him out in the country and buried him on my daughter’s 10 acres.”

This painful chapter in Bowers’ life happened in less than 35 hours—from the night he applied the flea and tick drops to the morning of Diesel’s death.

Read Lisa Wade McCormick’s complete report.

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Lisa McCormick is an award-winning investigative reporter whose stories have appeared in Dogs for Kids magazine, The Kansas City Star, and the national consumer news website, ConsumerAffairs.com; she has written 12 nonfiction children's books.

iStockphoto.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Carolyn | March 11 2010 |

Good for Mr. Bowers taking on the big boys and winning. It won't bring Diesel back but it might, in the end, encourage the development of a safer formulation.

I live in the tropics and we fight fleas and ticks every day of my dog's life here. I check her when she comes inside, I check her over carefully with a flea comb daily and I have an herbal bandana she wears outside that seems to be fairly effective. Still, some times of the year, the ticks get the upper hand. Then I have to weigh whether it is better to risk the preventative ... or have her miserable with itching, biting and potential tick borne diseases. Would be great if these preventatives could be made safer!

Submitted by Matt | March 11 2010 |

Thanks for an outstanding story. This should be an eye-opener on many counts: 1) the "little guy", with some personal initiative, drive and commitment, can make a big and positive difference. 2) How long is it going to be before the EPA truly lives up to its responsibilities (and taxpayers' expectations) by proactively protecting children, pregnant women, pets and the environment? 3) How many courageous veterinarians will stand up and speak publicly about the medical implications and devastation these products wreak on a daily basis? 4) When are state regulatory agencies (also funded by taxpayers with some expectation of decent performance) going to do their job(s) and start taking on the registrants and manufacturers of pesticide flea and tick products? 5) When is someone going to see the social implications of consumers--low income particularly--who are concerned about what they can afford, typically gravitating toward products that they believe are safe (EPA approved) only to learn the hard way that their pets can be injured or killed...not to mention potential health risks to humans. It's devastating--emotionally and financially--for people unaware. Thanks, again, for an outstanding report.

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