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Pet owners allege dog treat maker is censoring backlash

Wednesday - 2/6/2013, 10:55am  ET

Denise Portis, a hearing-impaired woman from Annapolis, Md., couldn't understand why her service dog Chloe kept getting sick. She eventually discovered that dog treats made in China was the cause. (Courtesy of Denise Portis)
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Local pet owners mourn loss of their best friends

WTOP's Randi Martin reports


Stephanie Steinberg,

WASHINGTON - A controversy continues to broil on social media websites where pet owners say they're outraged at one company that censored their concerns over recalled pet treats made in China.

Though the New York State Department of Agriculture found trace amounts of antibiotics in Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brand pet treats last month -- prompting Nestle Purina PetCare to voluntarily recall those products -- some pet owners say the treats caused illness or death as early as two years ago.

The company, however, says the trace amounts of antibiotics do "not pose a health or pet safety risk."

Raymond Parker, of Knoxville, Tenn., says his dog Sarge died in December 2011 after consuming the treats, and when he posted a warning comment to other owners on Waggin' Trains' Facebook page, the company deleted it.

He was not the only one. In the months since, many owners have come forward to say they felt the company had arbitrarily censored comments relating to potential health risks posed by the treats. Parker, along with 11 others, teamed together to start their own Facebook group, "Animal Parents Against Pet Treats and Food Made in China," which allowed for open discussion. The group had more than 10,800 "Likes" as of Wednesday morning.

In an interview in late January, Waggin' Train spokesman Bill Salzman said the company deletes Facebook posts that violate "community guidelines." A violation could include writing obscenities or material that would violate Facebook's terms of use.

"We encourage people to make comments both positive and negative ... Clearly we're not removing negative comments because there are quite a few up there," Salzman said.

Meanwhile, Parker says he did not use profanity in his post or write anything that would violate Facebook's terms of service.

"The only guidelines I violated was to tell other people that these treats killed my dog," he wrote in an email.

Storm Taylor, another administrator for Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China, lives in Vanderhoof, Canada. In an email, Taylor claims her three dogs, ranging in ages 6 months to 11 years old, became sick after she fed them Waggin' Train peanut butter biscuits wrapped in chicken jerky.

"My puppy almost died," Taylor says. "She had severe diarrhea and vomiting. I have never seen a dog that sick. I would barely get one mess cleaned up, and there would be another. It went on for hours."

Taylor wrote on Waggin' Train's Facebook wall Jan. 11, 2013, saying the products were still being sold in Canada despite the voluntary recall in the United States on Jan. 9. She added, "Too bad your company ethics are not more in line with Milo's Kitchen who said in their recall notice: ‘the presence of even trace amounts of these antibiotics does not meet our high quality standards.'"

Taylor was referencing another pet treat recall that was issued on the same day as Purina's. Del Monte Corp. recalled its Milo's Kitchen Chicken Jerky and Chicken Grillers, which are also made in China and found to contain trace amounts of antibiotics.

Waggin' Train responded to Taylor's post by leaving the number for the Canadian office and writing, "Please know that we are passionate about pets, and the quality and safety of our products is our top priority." Taylor, who provided a screenshot of the post to WTOP, says the message was then hidden from the company's Facebook wall. When she posted the screenshot on Jan. 13, the company left it up.

On Jan. 25, the Hartz Mountain Corporation became the latest company to voluntarily recall its dog treats. According to an FDA recall announcement, Hartz's Chicken Chews and Hartz Oinkies Pig Skin Twists wrapped with chicken contained traces of unapproved antibiotics.

Katy Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va., advises pet owners to not feed their pets treats made in China. She says pet food companies are starting to take the issue seriously in light of recent canine and feline deaths.

"While this particular antibiotic has not been linked to the reported illnesses, it may be one link in the chain that helps the FDA to figure out just what is making these pets sick, and in some instances, killing them," she says.

As of September 2012, the FDA had received 2,200 reports of pet illness potentially related to jerky treats. In the previous 18 months, there had been 360 canine deaths in the U.S. and Canada. Though no definitive cause of death has been established, the FDA says five plants that manufactured jerky products in China were associated with some of the highest numbers of pet illness reports.

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