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Dog owner questions tainted treats

Gary and Carol Kriesel's Golden retriever, Emma, died earlier this month. The couple suspects chicken jerky treats might have killed her. Submitted Photo

Emma was a healthy, vibrant Golden retriever who would run five miles to her master's three.

Back and forth, bounding up and down. They'd return home and she still wanted to play ball.

On Oct. 3, she, "sister dog" Molly and their master headed outside to the woodpile.

The retrievers were playing, the frisky 6-year-old Emma and seven-month-old Molly.

Gary Kriesel looked up when he watched Emma spasmodically flip in the air and fall to the ground.

"I was there in five seconds," he recalled. "She was dead. Something stopped her heart."

Gary and wife Carol began the painstaking process of coping with the loss and then set their sights as to what happened.

Emma regularly saw her vet for shots and checkups. She didn't have heart issues. She didn't have cancer, a stroke.

"She flipped over and gasped," Gary Kriesel said. "If I hadn't known differently, I would have thought she'd been shot in the head."

There had been no gunfire on Straight Lake that day.

The only thing he could remember was that she'd been given a dog treat just before going outside.

"Within five minutes she was dead," Gary said.

He called his vet to ask if she knew anything about tainted dog treats.

Indeed, her office said. They had a list of about 20 that they were advising dog owners not to buy.

That was the first the Kriesels had heard about possible contamination of chicken jerky treats made in China.

The Facebook community has traded lists of the items and horror stories about pet dog deaths for months. But urban myths, even spread at the speed of the Internet, suffer from doubt.

The Food and Drug Administration got involved a year ago when it began getting deluged with complaints.

Dog owners began reporting severe kidney failure and symptoms like vomiting and lethargy in 2007 and 2008, according to the FDA.

But when the complaints skyrocketed in the fall of 2011, warnings went out.

Dog food, unlike human food, doesn't follow the same sets for rules for recalls, and that's what troubles Gary Kriesel.

"They didn't know," he said of the public at large. He began a one-man notification campaign, calling pet food vendors in the Park Rapids area, and vets.

"Two other people have told us their dogs got violently ill," he said in the wake of his warnings.

The owner of Family Furniture made it his mission to notify every dog owner he encountered while he was out making deliveries. He spoke from the heart.

A broken one.

But since dogs are dogs, the FDA couldn't issue a recall. A dog will eat anything. How to pinpoint the culprit?

Gary said his dogs were never allowed to wander into the woods, chowing down on dead animals, fish heads or other delicacies they might encounter.

And that complicated the FDA's task of identifying the problem. Since jerky treats are just that, the FDA last week even advised not giving them to dogs at all.

The speculation is that irradiation may be the cause of the pathogens. Foods ironically are irradiated to remove just such contamination.

But is there a limit to how much an animal can tolerate?

Last week the FDA said it was consulting NASA, which sends irradiated food into space with the astronauts and has been for decades.

While that research continues, pet advocacy groups are banding together to get the word out. Lawsuits have been filed against large pet food manufacturers.

The FDA adheres to a "GRAS" standard for pet foods.

"There is no requirement that pet food products have pre-market approval by the FDA," the agency states. "However, FDA ensures that the ingredients used in pet food are safe and have an appropriate function in the pet food. Many ingredients such as meat, poultry and grains are considered safe and do not require pre-market approval. Other substances such as sources of minerals, vitamins or other nutrients, flavorings, preservatives, or processing aids may be generally recognized as safe"

Generally recognized as safe, or GRAS.

"FDA, in addition to several animal health diagnostic laboratories in the U.S., is working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs," the agency's website states. "To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. FDA continues extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified a contaminant.

"The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem and its origin, the statement continues. "Many of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky."

So Kriesel resumes his solitary campaign.

Numerous Facebook pages have been launched to boycott Chinese-made treats.

You can type, "dog treats" into any search engine and get bombarded with results.

For the Kriesels, who use their computers for "work-related purposes only," it's too late.

He still sees the tainted treats on store shelves, which bothers him.

"We need to slow down people buying them so the distributors will be forced to stop putting them" into distribution channels, he says.

Meanwhile, he advises if you're going to give your dog a treat, a table scrap might be best.

"We need to ring the alarm bell."