COURTESY PHILLIPS FAMILY
Murdoch Phillips holds Cheech, the Phillips family's Chihuahua-dachshund mix, at the family's home on the Big Island. Cheech died, apparently from bad food, on Feb. 18. CLICK FOR LARGE
Some grieving pet owners learned too late
'This stuff killed my dog just like a bullet'
HILO » On Feb. 17, Cheech, a 6-year-old mixed Chihuahua-dachshund dog, began having blood in his urine at the Corky Phillips home in Puna, south of Hilo.
The next morning, Cheech was dead, Phillips said.
The death upset Phillips and his family so much that he didn't sleep well. A few weeks later, early in the morning, he tuned his radio to a station in Los Angeles.
He heard a report that pets on the mainland had died, apparently from contaminated food.
That's when Phillips thought of the special treat he had started giving Cheech a few days before his death -- small, tuna-fish-can-size tins of Iams brand chicken cuts with gravy.
"He was in the total prime of his life. This stuff killed my dog just like a bullet," he said.
Reports have now linked the deaths of about a dozen pets nationwide to some 40 brands associated with Menu Foods of Ontario, Canada.
COURTESY PHILLIPS FAMILY
"He was all moping and lethargic. The next day, he was dead at my feet."
Owner of Cheech, pictured above CLICK FOR LARGE
Company tests found that about one in six of dogs and cats fed "wet" food from cans and pouches died. On Oahu, attorney Emily Gardner says a dog and another local animal have died, apparently from the tainted pet food.
Phillips thinks there are far more deaths. If a sixth of the test animals died, and Menu brands were sold across the country before a March 16 recall of millions of cans of food, the deaths may be in the thousands, he said.
Phillips bought the Iams cans on sale at Safeway. As soon as Cheech ate the stuff, he began retching, although he didn't vomit. Phillips didn't think much of it because Cheech had coughed up hair balls before, and he settled down quickly.
The next day, a Friday, Cheech ate more special food. "He was all moping and lethargic," Phillips said. On Saturday, the bloody urine appeared, but Phillips couldn't reach a veterinarian on a Saturday.
"The next day, he was dead at my feet," Phillips said.
When Phillips contacted Safeway, their computerized system let them identify the product right down to the lot numbers on the cans.
Contacted by the Star-Bulletin for comment, Safeway referred the call to Menu Foods' "recall line," which referred the call to Iams' public relations line, where no one was available.
One of the biggest users of pet foods on the Big Island is Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary, which currently has 72 dogs and 190 cats. Operator Lanny Sinkin said the sanctuary has avoided problems with the Menu brands because it simply can't afford wet food for so many animals.
Friends have been sharing information with him. The main topic is which products to throw out, he said.
Other than Cheech, Sinkin has not heard of any Menu-related pet deaths on the Big Island.
Another Big Island "no kill" shelter operator is Lauri Lannan, who runs Tasha Ohana Animal Sanctuary, with 40 dogs, 70 cats and two feral pigs. "I'm lucky," she said. "I can't afford canned food."