BOSTON HERALD VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dr. Nathan Peterson of the Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston examined a pug named Monty on Tuesday when he fell ill after apparently eating contaminated pet food.
Local suit may bite pet food firm
Poisoned animals have veterinarians busy and an attorney threatening action
A Honolulu lawyer plans to file a lawsuit on behalf of "several" Hawaii pet owners who believe their dogs and cats died from eating food apparently contaminated with rat poison.
Attorney Emily Gardner would not say how many clients she is representing, but said all the animals had kidney failure -- and several died -- after eating recalled food.
"I've been really busy this week," Gardner, who specializes in animal law, said yesterday. "I imagine that I will file a multiparty lawsuit."
Scientists in New York found the poison aminopterin yesterday in two of three cat food samples provided by manufacturer Menu Foods. Aminopterin is not registered for killing rodents in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, though it is used as a cancer drug.
It is unclear how the chemical got into the food.
Island pet clinics say their phones have been unusually busy since news of the recall hit a week ago.
Veterinarian Daryl Stang of Animal Clinic Kapolei said a pet owner called him Thursday after finding out he had fed his dog more than 10 pouches of Ol' Roy dog food, one of 95 recalled brands. The dog's urine and blood were tested yesterday, and Stang is waiting for results.
"I've never seen anything of this magnitude," Stang said. "This is a lot of food and a lot of people that are worried."
Big Island veterinarian Bob Jordan said he checked five animals yesterday whose owners were worried about the recall. All pets were healthy, he said.
"We are getting more and more calls ... and starting to run more and more blood work as more stories emerge and people become even more concerned," said Jordan of Kona Veterinary Service.
A national consumer complaint hot line got as many as 4,400 calls from pet owners in the past week, said Federal Drug Administration spokeswoman Mary Ellen Taylor. She could not say how many inquiries came from Hawaii.
The Hawaiian Humane Society is warning people who buy pets about the recall by posting signs at its shelters, said spokeswoman Alicia Maluafiti.
Menu Foods has confirmed the death of 15 cats and dogs, and it agreed to compensate pet owners for medical bills. But Gardner believes that number will go up, saying those deaths account only for cases in which the company has "gone through the trouble" of investigating.
Pet owners who suspect their animal is sick should contact their veterinarian and save food samples in case they need legal help in the future, Gardner said.
The FDA has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focused on wheat gluten in the food. The gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but it could have been contaminated, the FDA said.
Paul Henderson, chief executive of Ontario, Canada-based Menu Foods, confirmed the wheat gluten was purchased from China. Henderson said Menu Foods does not believe the recalled food was tampered with because it came from two different plants, one in Kansas, one in New Jersey. Menu continues to produce food at the two plants.
The company has expanded its recall to include all 95 brands of the "cuts and gravy" style food, regardless of when they were produced. The initial recall covered cans and pouches of food packaged from Dec. 3 through March 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.