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The Ruff Report: A roundup of news about dogs Oct. 12 to 18, 2008

Oct. 12 to 18, 2008

Settlement approved in giant food recall case

A federal judge has approved a $24 million settlement for owners of dogs and cats whose pets became ill or died after eating food contaminated with an industrial ingredient.

Under the plan approved by U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman, Menu Foods, Wal-Mart Stores and five other companies sued by consumers last year for selling melamine-tainted pet food will create a fund allowing consumers to recover as much as 100 percent of their monetary damages if they can document their claims. The settlement ends more than 100 lawsuits.

Pet owners have until Nov. 24 to file a claim against the pet food manufacturers. USA Today reported in August that nearly 6,000 claims had been filed in the class-action settlement stemming from the 2007 recall, the largest ever for the pet-food industry.

"We feel that we did the absolute best that we could do under the circumstances,'' Kenneth Wexler of Chicago, the lawyer for the plaintiffs told Bloomberg News. "Its a fantastic settlement'' for consumers.

Menu Foods of Streetsville, Ontario, has already spent about $65 million in recalling the tainted products, Wexler said, and has paid $8 million to consumers outside the litigation. The plaintiffs lawyers will receive 25 percent, or $6 million, in fees and reimbursement for their costs from the $24 million settlement.

The ruling clears the way for U.S. pet owners with claims to start receiving checks next year. A Canadian judge has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 3 to determine whether the settlement can also apply in that nation.

"The U.S. court approval is a significant milestone,'' Menu Foods Chief Executive Officer Paul Henderson said in a statement. "If the Canadian courts approve the settlement, pet owners affected by the 2007 pet food recalls will receive compensation for their losses.''

Other companies agreeing to the accord are Nestle Purina PetCare , a unit of Switzerland's Nestle SA ; Minneapolis-based Target Corp., Petco Animal Supplies of San Diego, Phoenix's PetSmart and Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., maker of Iams products.

The dog and cat foods contained melamine-tainted wheat gluten that, if ingested, can cause kidney failure and death. The products were imported from China.

Two Chinese businesses and their executives, as well as Chemnutra, a Las Vegas-based importer of Chinese food products, were indicted Feb. 6 by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Missouri, for their roles in the manufacturing and importing of the tainted ingredient used in the pet food. The companies and the executives face 13 felony and 13 misdemeanor charges, including fraud, false labeling of the food and participating in a wire fraud conspiracy.

Claims from pet owners will be reviewed by an independent administrator. Claimants may receive a 100 percent cash payment for all documented expenses deemed reasonable, including veterinary bills and burial costs. They may receive up to $900 for undocumented expenses.

The Food and Drug Administration never identified how many pets were affected by the tainted food, but it received more than 17,000 complaints. The recall began on March 16, 2007, with Menu Foods, a maker of many wet pet-food brands, and eventually grew to involve 180 brands of pet food and treats.

For more information about filing a claim, visit or call the claims administrator at 800-392-7785.

Military agrees to let soldier take dog from Iraq

Yielding to an outcry from dog lovers around the world, the U.S. military has agreed to let an Army sergeant have an abandoned puppy she adopted taken from Iraq to her Minnesota home.

Army Sgt. Gwen Beberg, 28, a native of Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, who left Iraq on Oct. 25, adopted the abandoned puppy after finding him whimpering in a burning trash heap in Baghdad.

Initially, the military blocked Operation Baghdad Pups, a rescue group, from flying the black-and-white mixed-bred dog out of Baghdad because regulations forbid soldiers to keep pets, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul reports. But after the public outcry, the military relented and has agreed to let Rachet leave. Ratchet has been flown to Minneapolis.

Originally, the dog was on an Army convoy to the Baghdad airport, where he was to be flown to Beberg's parents' home in Minnesota by Operation Baghdad Pups. But the dog was taken away by an Army officer before it reached the airplane.

"Please, please let my dog come home! Ratchet is everything to me! I couldn't have made it through this deployment without his wagging tail and understanding eyes." Beberg wrote on "This is unbelievably important to me, my family, my friends, and even perfect strangers who have taken up the cause."

More than 30,000 people worldwide signed online petitions asking the military to allow Beberg to take the dog home.

Terri Crisp, program director of Operation Baghdad Pups, said the group has gotten 56 dogs and cats that had been adopted by military personnel out of Iraq. The organization, part of SPCA International, uses donations to fly the animals to the United States on commercial and private airlines.

The group has tried to keep a low profile to avoid a "ruckus" over the Army's no-pet rule, Crisp said. "There are commanding officers there who are animal lovers and recognize that these animals make a difference," she told the Star Tribune. "We've had high-ranking officials bring out animals themselves."

On Oct. 1, the group was to take Ratchet and 14 other animals from Baghdad. She said he was the only animal confiscated once the evacuation process had begun, but at least 36 other animals that soldiers were trying to get out of Iraq have been destroyed.

"It's totally senseless, because they took away something that could help soldiers, and this just causes more trauma for them," Crisp said.

Beberg's mother, Pat, says her daughter needs Ratchet. Soldiers in Iraq rescue dogs and cats all the time despite the Army's no-pets rule, she said.

"My daughter has had a really tough time over there, living in those circumstances, and the dog has been just a godsend to her," Pat Berg said.

Tougher rules for Pennsylvania kennels

In an effort to improve animal welfare, Pennsylvania is enacting new regulations to make kennels more humane.

Under legislation approved by Pennsylvania lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Ed Rendell, dog accommodations will improve, the Morning Call reports. Cages stacked on top of each other will no longer be allowed, the minimum size of those cages will expand and wire flooring will be banned. Kennels also must establish a plan with a veterinarian to provide for care and exercise of the dogs and only veterinarians will be permitted to perform euthanasia.

"This is the day that we eliminate" Pennsylvania's reputation "as the puppy mill capital of the East," Rep. James Casorio, a Democratic of Westmoreland and the prime sponsor of the legislation, told the newspaper. "The mistreatment of thousands and thousands and thousands of dogs kept in deplorable and inhumane [conditions] will no longer stand."

Most commercial kennel owners will have three years to comply with the new regulations as long as the kennel owner has not been found guilty of or pleaded guilty to violating the dog law. Language added to the bill also gives the state Department of Agriculture the power to extend that waiver.

The new law also requires officials to meet a standard similar to probable cause in criminal cases if they seek a warrant to raid a kennel. A new Canine Health Board will make judgment calls on individual kennel cases. One of the board's members will be appointed by the president of the state Veterinary Medical Association, which fought against several provisions of the main bill.

Arkansas boy donates birthday money to shelter

Matt Hundley had $25 - a tidy sum for an 11-year-old boy - to spend on anything he wanted.

But instead of spending the birthday money from his grandparents on himself, the boy from Bella Vista, Arkansas, decided to use it to help hungry, homeless pets. He donated it to the local animal shelter, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

"We're very proud of him," Matt's dad, Mike Hundley, told the newspaper.
"He has a true love for animals and a very kind heart," added his mother, Kristina Hundley.

Matt, a sixth-grader at Ambassador for Christ School, had heard a report on the news about the plight of the Bella Vista Animal Shelter. The shelter made a plea to the community for help because it was running out of food and could be forced to euthanize some pets when the food ran out. Because of Hurricane Ike, donations it normally received from Wal-Mart had to be redirected to the Texas Gulf Coast to help displaced animals there.

"We were watching TV, and it showed that animals needed help and treatment - that all the (donations ) had gone down to the hurricane," Matt explained. He then told his mother, " I want to donate my birthday money tomorrow."

And that is exactly what he did.

Research finds large, black dogs get shunned

Black dogs, especially large ones, need homes, too, but animal welfare advocates say they have a much more difficult time finding homes for them.

They call the phenomenon Black Dog Syndrome.

"We have a lot of great dogs out here, and a preponderance are black dogs, because they're so difficult to adopt out," Annette Lambert of Celina, Texas-based Animal Guardians of America told the Dallas Morning News. "But black doggies need homes, too."

Black dogs are sometimes shunned because they are much more difficult to photograph - their eyes blend in with the color of their fur, so it is difficult for someone looking for a dog on the Internet to feel a connection, said Steve Hurst, a volunteer with Animal Guardians of America who fosters dogs that need homes.

And the wait for a home can be quite long if a black dog is big, said Maura Davies of the SPCA of Texas. Big dogs, those weighing more than 35 pounds, are more difficult to place than smaller ones, she said.

Animal Guardians has more than 40 black dogs in need of homes. "These dogs are a joy to me," Ms. Lambert said, "and I love each and every one of them. I can't help but get attached, but I know they need real homes."

Visit for more information about dogs the organization has available for adoption.

Minn. chiropractor makes inroads with animals

After working exclusively with humans for several years, a Minnesota chiropractor has a new group of patients - animals.

Dr. Josée Gerard sees most of her animal patients at her office in Forest Lake, Minnesota, but she even makes some house calls, the Forest Lake Times reports.

Dr. Gerard, a graduate of Northwestern College of Chiropractic, pioneered legislation to legalize animal chiropractic care in Minnesota. She spent years holding forums to garner public support and lobbying politicians. Her efforts paid off earlier this year when lawmakers passed a new law allowing chiropractors to treat animals.

Since then, Dr. Gerard, one of just three animal chiropractors in Minnesota, has been inundated with new animal patients. Six months ago, she would see animals about four days a month. Now, it is 20. "The demand was so quick," she told the newspaper. "They've been waiting for me for years, some of these patients."

Dr. Gerard says giving chiropractic care to animals is a dream job because her four-legged clients are easier to work with than humans. "They react very fast to adjustments," she explained. "They'll give a big shake, and there is a noticeable difference right away. They will start prancing around, they're happy. ... We're psychological beings. We always get in the way of our own healing. [Humans are] the more difficult breed."

In some cases, the results have been dramatic, Dr. Gerard said. She has helped a sled-pulling dog with a hitch in his stride and a fawn that was born without use of its back legs. She also does preventative work on animals and works to keep show dogs in top shape.

Most of the time, the results on animals are similar to humans, Dr. Gerard said. "Owners just want their animals to feel good," she said. "If they, themselves, have seen a chiropractor before and believe in natural healing and holistic health, then they'll want their animals to have that, too."

Dogs in Britain fight battle of the bulge

Nearly half the dogs in Britain are overweight, putting their health at risk.

According to a survey of 100 veterinary surgeons for Sainsbury's Finance, which offers pet insurance, 47 percent of all dogs were too fat and 26 percent were obese, the London Telegraph reports.

Many medical conditions are linked to being overweight, Sainsbury official Neal Devine said.
"People often think they are being kind to their pet by giving it treats, but being overweight can influence and worsen many medical conditions in pets, such as osteoarthritis and respiratory disorders, conditions that can be very uncomfortable for the animal," Devine told the newspaper.

The survey found cats also have a weight problem; 19 percent of them are obese and 20 percent slightly overweight.

Survey findings are a recipe for trouble

Owners are worried about the health of their pets, yet most fail to read the labels on the food they are feeding them and have a lack of understand about the ingredients.

Only 20 percent of dog owners and 19 percent of cat owners in the United States say they always read pet food labels and just 38 percent say they understand all the ingredients listed on the labels, according to a survey commissioned by Wellness, a maker of natural food and treats for pets. Yet 85 percent of owners agree that the health of their pets is as important as the health of their family.

The survey also found that 56 percent worry that food contains ingredients they would not want their pet to consume and 55 percent do not know what federal body is in charge of regulating pet food quality. The agency is the American Association of Feed Control Officials.

Animals removed from squalid Indiana property

Sixty-seven animals living in what is being described as squalid conditions have been removed from a 20-acre property in Indiana.

The property owner voluntarily agreed to surrender the animals - 52 dogs, 10 horses, four cats and one goat, according to a Humane Society of the United States press released.

Authorities entered the property near Fairbanks after receiving reports that animals were in poor health, underfed and living in squalid conditions. Many of the dogs were emaciated and suffered from open sores and skin conditions, the HSUS stated.

"It is extremely gratifying to know that we have given these animals the opportunity to experience the joys of life outside the confines of their squalid cages," said Anne Sterling, Indiana state director for HSUS.

Indiana State Police, the Humane Society of Missouri, Indiana Animal Care and Control and the USDA Office of the Inspector General helped with the operation.

The animals were taken to the Sullivan County 4H Fairgrounds, where an emergency shelter has been set up, and assessed by veterinarians and given medical attention. They will be taken to humane organizations and made available for adoption.

New Virgina arson dog is 'pretty little girl'

There is a new dog in the town.

Taylor, a 17-month-old black Labrador mix, is helping the fire and rescue division of Hampton, Virginia, sniff out arson cases, The Daily Press reports.

"She's a pretty little girl," Fire Marshal Anne-Marie Loughran told the newspaper.Assistant Fire Marshal Jesse Gomes, the dog's handler, has been showing off Taylor during demonstrations at schools. She was was trained at Maine Specialty Dogs, an academy run by a retired Maine state trooper and financed by State Farm Insurance.

Fire departments apply to State Farm's Arson Dog program, and 10 are selected for a "scholarship" worth about $20,000. This pays for the cost of the dog and training of the dog and handler at a five-week program in Maine, said Dawn Fones, the insurance company's arson dog coordinator.

State Farm has worked with the dog school in Maine since 1993 and provided more than 250 dogs to fire departments across the United States and Canada.

Virginia community to build dog park

Dogs in Leesburg, Virginia, will soon have a place to prance around off-leash.

Town officials have approved building a dog park on a three-quarter acre parcel at Olde Izaak Walton Park. The dog park, which will be Loudoun County's first, could be built by December and open in May, The Washington Post reports.

"The people that are involved in this project are very concerned with their dogs," Mary Harper of Leesburg, a longtime dog park supporter, told the newspaper. "It's a place for them to go safely, where they're not violating any ordinances or restrictions."

Leesburg Parks and Recreation Department officials, who have looked at possible sites for a dog park since 2005, first considered allowing designated off-leash hours at one of the town's 16 parks. And last year, town officials considered building a facility at the privately owned Morven Park., but that failed because of the cost and complaints by neighbors. The 10-acre park would have cost $470,000 to build.

Fla. woman dies trying to save dog from fire

An act of compassion and bravery has cost a Florida woman her life.

Candace Chapas, 55, of Sarasota got out of her house that was on fire but then went back inside to try to rescue her dog. Both she and her pet died, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports.

Chapas and her husband, Walter, who suffered minor injuries, had been renting the 2,000-square-foot home for several years, owner Stuart Scheckner told the newspaper. "She was a nice, kind, lovely woman," Scheckner said about Candace Chapas.

Investigators believe the fire was caused by a candle the family had been using because their electricity had been shut off. They had been having trouble paying the rent in recent months.


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