Stop Killing Your Dog

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Pets: Owners continue to worry about safe food


Vegetarian,  human-grade dog treats can be found in  abundance at stores like the  Big Bad Woof  in suburban Washington.
Vegetarian, human-grade dog treats can be found in abundance at stores like the Big Bad Woof in suburban Washington.

These days, if pet food labels were books, they’d be on the best-seller list.

Since the pet-food recalls in March, when the deaths of dogs and cats were blamed on pet food containing Chinese wheat gluten tainted with the chemical melamine, pet owners all over the United States now find themselves in the position of attempting to become instant experts on pet nutrition.

It’s not always easy, but most say they think their pets are better for it and even their own human diets have improved with their new awareness.

Take Rosalie Paoloni, a medical transcriptionist in Wolcott, Conn., who has nine cats and two dogs. She says she has recently changed everyone’s diets with some extra effort.

Paoloni is trying to buy more organic and locally produced foods for her pets and her family.

“I will not buy the old foods again from the big pet food companies,” she says, and she is also trying to avoid human food produced by large corporations.

“I have to buy from small specialty pet food stores, and the prices are expensive and keep going up since the recalls,” she says. “Plus, I’m using more gas shopping around. I have had to go without buying some necessities for my family as a consequence of this.”

For some people their awareness level has increased but, frustratingly, their options have not. Rosie Glorso lives with her two Scottish Fold cats in Unalaska, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands.

When the recalls were announced, “I was really upset because there is a very limited selection of cat food in my town,” and shipping is prohibitively expensive to a town where access is possible only by air or boat.

Glorso has continued to feed her cats a dry food that was not recalled. But she is looking forward to her move back to Colorado, where she hopes to switch to an organic brand.

Even those who have a wider choice of products may find that the problems don’t end there. Pets don’t always cooperate. Cats in particular can be finicky and resist change.

Traudi Wicks of Lawton, Okla., tried to wean her cats off commercial dried foods after attending a holistic veterinary pet food seminar.

“They totally refuse home-cooked food, and one of them even refuses to touch canned food,” she says. Because Wicks lives in a rural area and needs to shop on the Internet, experimentation is not cheap. “Since this mess started I have spent close to $1,000 trying to find a canned food they like.”

Pet owners say they still don’t think they have enough information to make good choices.

For example, Paoloni wants to avoid all products made in China or containing ingredients from China. But pet foods usually don’t label where their ingredients come from.

Even if labeling requirements were strengthened, it might be impossible to choose local ingredients in some cases. For example, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a dietary supplement industry trade group, 90 percent of the vitamin C used in the U.S. comes from China. Only one Western company still manufactures it, in Holland.

The result is a world where a sense of security in something as simple as grocery shopping — or feeding a hungry dog — may seem lost.

Julie Paez, co-owner of the Big Bad Woof in Takoma Park, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C., says sales of premium, natural pet foods have gone up 20 percent to 30 percent since the recalls.

“They walk in the door and say, ‘What’s not going to kill my dog or cat?’ ” Paez says.