DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
David Pang wiped away tears yesterday as he talked about his dog Kuma's ordeal and the effect the pet's death has had on his family. He was flanked by attorney Emily Gardner and fellow pet owner Andrew Garcia, who lost his dog Braddah. CLICK FOR LARGE
Pet owners sue maker of toxic food
Two lawsuits target a Canadian firm that produced toxic pet food
In the first lawsuits in Hawaii since a March nationwide pet food recall, about 2,000 consumers sued a Canadian company yesterday for allegedly producing contaminated food that killed or severely sickened at least eight pets.
Honolulu attorneys Emily A. Gardner and Thomas Grande filed two suits yesterday in Circuit Court -- about 50 have been filed so far in the United States -- against Menu Foods, the largest manufacturer of dog and cat food in North America. Menu Foods' products contained wheat flour that was allegedly contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used in fertilizers and manufacturing of plastics.
Coffee farmer David Pang said his family dog Kuma, a "devoted companion and protector ... died a horrible death."
Andrew Garcia fed his mixed-breed dog the Pedigree brand for years until he spotted Ol'Roy prime rib canned dog food at Wal-Mart last Christmas and purchased several cans.
Within days of eating the new food, Braddah, his pet of 13 years, went from drinking insatiably to being unable to walk. He had to be carried outside to relieve himself. Braddah eventually just defecated and urinated wherever he lay. In his final days he would just lie there, shaking, unable to move.
"You could just see it in his eyes, like, 'Help me, help me, Dad,' and I was like, 'Son, what's going on?'" Garcia said yesterday.
Honolulu attorneys Emily A. Gardner and Thomas Grande filed two lawsuits yesterday in Circuit Court against Menu Foods, the largest manufacturer of dog and cat foods in North America and maker of the dog food that allegedly caused Braddah's death.
The complaints were filed on behalf of about 2,000 Hawaii consumers who purchased tainted wet pet foods manufactured by Menu Foods and eight pet owners whose pets became severely ill or died after eating the food. The plaintiffs are seeking damages to be determined at trial.
The consumer class-action suit seeks repayment for what consumers spent for the pet food and the costs of examinations for any pet that ate the tainted food.
These are the first lawsuits to come out of Hawaii since Menu Foods initiated a nationwide recall beginning March 16. Within four weeks of the recall, the company received more than 14,000 reports of cats and dogs developing kidney failure after eating tainted food manufactured by Menu Foods. About 50 lawsuits have been filed in the United States so far against Menu Foods.
The Canadian company manufactures nearly 100 different brands of dog and cat foods, with brand names that include Ol'Roy, Iams and Eukanuba and is the only manufacturer in North America that offers wet pet food in foil pouches.
While the lawsuit seeks damages, coffee farmer David Pang, 68, whose dog Kuma died Feb. 10, said it is not about the money, even though he is on a pension.
"I don't need money," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I don't have my dog. I just want some justice. I'm not the only one suffering -- a lot of people across America are suffering, and my dog ... he died a horrible death."
Menu Foods' dog and cat foods, manufactured between Dec. 3 and March 6, contained allegedly contaminated wheat flour that was mislabeled as wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is a major ingredient of wet pet foods and is added to provide a meaty texture and as a binding agent.
The pet foods were later found to have been contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical used in fertilizers and manufacturing plastics banned for use in the United States, according to the complaint.
Ingesting melamine causes symptoms associated with acute renal failure, said attorney Gardner, who represents eight pet owners, six of whom had pets that died. When the melamine mixes with urine in the kidneys, the acid in the urine causes big crystals to form, causing the kidneys to "seize up," Gardner said.
Canadian-based Menu Foods could not be reached for comment.
But Paul Henderson, president and chief executive officer of Menu Foods, defended the company earlier this year as a "quality manufacturer" before the U.S. House of Representative's subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
Menu Foods has never had a food safety-related product recall in more than 35 years of business, except for the recent events, he said.
Menu Foods has taken steps to rectify the situation, including discontinuing all business with ChemNutra, the Chinese supplier of the wheat gluten, testing wheat gluten and other vegetable proteins for melamine and screening new suppliers, he said.