Chattanooga woman says poison in dog treats killed her beloved pet

Chattanooga woman says poison in dog treats killed her beloved pet

October 25th, 2013 by Alex Green in Local Regional News

Patricia Cassidy with her dog, Doodles, visit the veterinarian in Chattanooga after doodles had been diagnosed with kidney failure. Doodles is believed to be one of 580 dogs in the U.S. that have died in the past six years from eating pet jerky from China. Baffled by the cause and seeing another surge in illnesses, the Food and Drug Administration reached out to owners and veterinarians Tuesday to help it find the poison behind the sickening of at least 3,600 dogs and 10 cats since 2007

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

There at the end, Patricia Cassidy would perch frail, 6-pound Doodles on top of the washing machine to run his IV.

The little Shih Tzu "took it like a champ," she said.

Cassidy watched Doodles' health fail in the eight weeks leading up to Sept. 9, when he at last succumbed to kidney failure and left IV and dialysis treatments behind.

"I'm telling you, it was the most horrible thing," Cassidy said Thursday. "He was just a cute little dog and a sweet little dog, and now he's gone."

She blames the sweet potato treats Doodles loved so much.

She treated him with the french fry-looking snacks a couple of times per day for months before "all of a sudden he started getting real sick."

Doodles then turned his nose up at the treats, and in fact, everything. Cassidy switched dog foods. For a while, improvement.

"And then one day, he just started vomiting," she said.

Cassidy believes Doodles is just one of 580 dogs that have died and 3,600 that have been sickened since 2007 after eating pet treats made in China.

Just after Doodles' death, she wrote letters to pet food companies and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. No one responded -- until Thursday.

An FDA representative called to see exactly what happened to Doodles, after the story of his death ran in national news outlets.

It turns out FDA officials have been working for years to track down the ingredient in some pet treats that is poison to dogs. What they discovered is the treats share at least one common trait -- they all came out of China.

A year ago, FDA investigators went to China to take a firsthand look at what's going on, but results were dismal, according to Randy Hammon, doctor of veterinary medicine at Northgate Animal Hospital.

"They pretty much stonewalled the investigators over there," said Hammon, who as a certified veterinary journalist studies issues and communicates with media.

And that investigation hasn't helped Americans a whole lot -- vets, pet store operators and pet owners are all in the same boat.

"Until we get more information, we're just like the general public," said John Jordan, store manager at PetSmart on Gunbarrel Road.

Basically, it's a guessing game. FDA officials still don't know exactly why the Chinese treats are poison to dogs and cats.

Jordan said PetSmart's corporate officials haven't ordered any specific brands to be pulled off shelves. In fact, there is only a consumer advisory out right now, which warns consumers that treats made in China may sicken and kill pets.

But that doesn't mean consumers are left to simply roll the dice and hope for the best, Jordan said.

His advice is to buy American.

"Stick with American rawhide. Stick with what you know is safe," he said. Otherwise, "You can't say 'This product is safe,' and that's scary."

Hammon shared the sentiment.

"We're telling dog owners not to use any kind of jerky treats which were made in China," he said.

And don't take anything for granted.

"You can't just go, 'Oh, I recognize that brand. That's been around since I was a kid,'" he said. "The take-home message for the consumers out there at this point in time, is if they buy a bag of jerky treats, to look and see where it's made, even if it's a company they recognize."

Hammon said as of Thursday that Northgate Animal Hospital has not treated a dog with illness connected to poison treats. The cases aren't currently widespread, he said, but they are out there, and any dog or cat ingesting treats out of China can easily be at risk.

"This is a real issue. It doesn't appear to be going away," Hammon said.

Cassidy would add "yet" to that sentence.

During Doodle's final hours, she made him a promise that something would be done, that other dogs wouldn't suffer the same fate.

Earlier this week, national news outlets told Doodles' story. They ran a photo of him and Cassidy facing one another -- it was the moment the two found out Doodles was dying.

"I was explaining that he would have to work with me, and we were going to have to make him better," she said Thursday, her voice finally crackling with emotion. "You're going to have to work with me, Doodles," she told him.

It's a start to fulfilling that promise she made.

Cassidy wants the FDA to require pet treat companies to put warning labels on all packaging. She was clear about that with them when they called.

"I told them they killed my dog," she said. "Why isn't there a warning label on there?"

It won't bring Doodles back. It won't replace the hole in Cassidy's heart or the one in her pocket, created by the thousands she spent on dialysis treatments and IVs. She even borrowed money to prolong Doodles' life.

And she has no regrets.

"I'm not really worried about it," she said. "I would do the same thing for my pet that I would do for my children. And I did with Doodles," she said. "He's a family member."

In the immediate future, Cassidy, Jordan and Hammon all caution owners who feed pets treats to look out for signs of illness, which include increased water intake, increased urinating, loss of appetite and vomiting.

Hammon said if a pet is sick for more than 24 hours, it needs to visit the vet. Prolonged acute symptoms also warrant medical attention, he said.

Most of all, he advised pet owners to be cautious and practice second and third checks on all treats -- not just jerky -- until the mystery poison is identified.

Don't let any more dogs be poisoned, Cassidy said. For Doodles' sake.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.