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Nearly 1,000 dogs now sick from jerky treats, FDA reports say

Courtesy Robin Pierre

Bella, a 2-year-old pug, died last fall after her owner, Robin Pierre, said she ate Waggin' Train chicken jerky treats.

Nearly 1,000 dogs reportedly have been sickened by chicken jerky pet treats from China, according to a new tally of complaints from worried owners and veterinarians submitted to federal health officials.

The Food and Drug Administration has logged some 900 reports of illnesses and deaths since November, when it warned owners about continued problems with the products known variously as chicken jerky strips, treats and nuggets, a spokeswoman said.

Back then, the agency already had heard from 70 owners about problems ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to kidney failure and other serious ailments after animals reportedly consumed the treats.

Since then, complaints have mounted steadily, putting growing pressure on the FDA to solve the problem.

The agency sent inspectors earlier this year to Chinese plants that make the jerky treats, two Ohio lawmakers previously told msnbc.com.  No results of those inspections are yet available, FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward said Monday. 

Despite repeated tests since 2007, FDA scientists have been unable to detect any toxin responsible for the animal illnesses, officials said. The agency has asked certain pet owners to send in samples of suspect treats along with their animals' veterinary records.

Three top brands of chicken jerky treats were among those most recently cited by pet owners and veterinarians in complaints of harm, FDA records obtained by msnbc.com showed. They included Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brands produced by Nestle Purina PetCare Co., and Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp.

Import data compiled by the firm ImportGenius showed that Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats are produced and supplied by JOC Great Wall Corp. Ltd. of Nanjing, China. 

Both manufacturers have insisted their chicken jerky treats are sound and that any illnesses are unrelated to the products.

But representatives from Milo’s Kitchen confirmed that the firm has paid at least one owner who complained about a sick dog $100 in exchange for a release of all liability.

The company examined treats submitted by the pet owner and reviewed veterinary records for the animal, according to Joanna DiNizio, a spokeswoman for the firm.

“Following the evaluation, the veterinarian consultant concluded the symptoms experienced by the pet were not related to consuming Milo’s Kitchen chicken jerky treats,” DiNizio said in an email statement.

A grieving pet owner says his 9-year-old dog was in perfect health until he fed her Waggin' Train chicken treats; the Pomeranian died 13 days later of kidney failure. He is now calling on the FDA to take another look at the product. WMAQ-TV's Michelle Relerford reports.

The dog owner has declined to be identified, but Milo’s representatives said they provided the $100 as a “goodwill gesture” and asked that the consumer sign a “standard release form.” Firm officials said such arrangements are conducted on a case-by-case basis and they declined to confirm how many similar agreements are in place. 

A spokesman for Waggin' Train, Bill Salzman, said last month that the firm also negotiates agreements with complaining pet owners individually.

Such signed agreements do legally absolve firms of future claims, said Ron Simon, a Texas food safety lawyer.

“What the company is up to is to try to assuage consumer complaints without accepting liability,” said Simon.

However, he noted that in most states, pets, no matter how precious, are regarded as property with little change of recovering damages beyond the animal’s literal worth. Most lawyers probably wouldn’t accept such a case, he added.

“You don’t get mental anguish,” he added.

That’s outrageous to pet owners who believe their animals were harmed or killed by contaminated jerky treats.

Robin Pierre, 50, of Pine Bush, N.Y., contends that Waggin’ Train chicken jerky treats were responsible for the sudden death last fall of her previously healthy 2-year-old pug, Bella, who developed kidney failure. 

"Right now the laws are protecting the rights of these manufacturers and we as victims/consumers have none," Pierre wrote in an email to msnbc.com. 

Pierre is the founder of a petition to ban the jerky treats which now has logged more than 10,445 signatures.

FDA officials have said companies are free to recall the treats at any time but regulations do not allow for products to be removed based on complaints alone. 

Pet owners can submit complaints to the FDA's safety reporting portal.

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