For the past year, professional dog breeder Julie N. has waged a one-woman campaign against pet food giant Nestl Purina.
Shes convinced the companys food contributed to the recent and mysterious deaths of three of her healthy dogs -- two Bichon Frise and a Labrador Retriever.
And this spunky Harlan, Kentucky woman has evidence that suggests Purinas products might be the culprit in the death of at least one of her dogs.
Im not going away, says Julie, who fed her dogs Purina One, Purina ProPlan and Purina Dog Chow. I want justice for my dogs and peace of mind for myself.
Julies nightmare started last July when her 12-year-old Labrador Retriever, Stryker, suddenly died of liver complications.
He was a healthy dog, she says, but then his liver just shut down.
One month later, Julies puppy, Beeble, unexpectedly died.
She was a healthy 12-month-old Bichon Frise. But then she suddenly started drinking excessive amounts of water, was vomiting, and became very lethargic.
Julie immediately took Beeble to the veterinarian.
He put her on antibiotics, but that night she had a seizure. She also had a difficult time breathing. She was so weak that she couldnt hold up her head.
Julie rushed Beeble back to the vet.
And he admitted her and put her on IVs. Beeble also had some nasal discharge and our vet checked her for canine flu. But she passed those tests.
Beeble died on August 17 four days after she started IV treatments.
Theres no reason that puppy should have died, Julie says. Her parents had genetic clearance. She was a perfectly healthy dog.
Deaths Come In Threes
Theres an old saying that deaths come in threes. And thats what happened with Julies dogs.
On October 26 -- two months after Beebles death -- another one of her dogs died.
In this case, it was Julies eight-year-old Bichon Frise, Kayla.
Kayla was a healthy female who did pet therapy. But then she started drinking enormous amounts of water. At first, I thought she might have diabetes. But the tests were negative on that.
What caused Kaylas death?
What about Beeble and Stryker?
And what role did Purinas foods play in their deaths?
Julie says she may never know why Stryker died. At the time, we didnt do an autopsy because we just thought it was old age.
But she vowed to found out why Beeble and Kayla died.
I dont want anybody else to go through the same pain that Ive gone through, she says. These are my children. They were here after my dad passed away and when my brother was ill. They were my babies all my dogs are my babies.
Julie, however, didnt test Purinas food for possible toxins.
Her dogs died months before Menu Food recalled 60 million containers of melamine-tainted food. That action -- the largest pet food recall in U.S. history -- occurred in March 2007.
Thousands of dogs and cats that ate the contaminated food suffered kidney disease or died.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered melamine in the imported wheat gluten and rice protein used to make the pet food. FDA officials traced the source of that chemical contamination to two now-defunct companies in China.
It didnt dawn on me to save the food so I could have it tested, Julie says, unable to hide the regret in her voice. And Purina told me to throw the food away.
She did, however, have autopsies performed on Beeble and Kayla at the University of Tennessees Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Knoxville.
I wish we would have done the same with Stryker, she says of the Lab that was titled in obedience. But like I said, we just thought he died from old age. I dont think that anymore ... I think theres something wrong with the dog food.
According to Beebles autopsy report, thats possible.
Pathologists at the University of Tennessee discovered problems with the puppys liver that were consistent with exposure to a hepatotoxin such as aflatoxin.
Aflatoxins are poisons produced by fungus or mold. These toxins are often found in corn and other agriculture crops and commonly cause liver disease.
But how could Beeble become exposed to -- and ingest -- aflatoxins?
The aflatoxins could have come from the (dog) food, Beebles veterinarian, Douglas Mickey, told ConsumerAffairs.com. He reviewed Beebles and Kaylas autopsy reports and -- with Julies permission -- agreed to discuss them with us.
Aflatoxins are known to be found in moldy grains, like corn that would be in dog food, he said, adding: If youre asking me if theres a possible connection between the pet food and Beebles death, the answer is: you cant rule that out.
Aflatoxins in pet food have contributed to the deaths of more than 100 dogs in recent year, including:
• The deaths of 25 dogs in 1999. In that case, Doane Pet Care recalled more than one million bags of corn-based dry dog food tainted with aflatoxins. Fifty-four brands of dog food, including OlRoy, were part of that recall;
• The deaths of 100 dogs in 2005. In that instance, Diamond Food recalled some of its pet food because the moldy corn in the products contained aflatoxins.
Kaylas Death Remains A Mystery
Aflatoxins, however, did not play a role in Kaylas death, Dr. Mickey said. That dog didnt die from anything in her food.
Her death remains a medical mystery.
Kaylas autopsy report revealed she had multiple organ mineralization, which Dr. Mickey said was likely caused by an adrenal problem.
But (the pathologists) couldnt pinpoint on the autopsy what caused the mineralization of all those organs, Dr. Mickey said. It would be consistent with adrenal or kidney problems, but her adrenal glands and kidneys were fine.
Kaylas death has puzzled everyone who has looked at it.
Everyone, that is, except Julie.
Despite the autopsy report, shes convinced Purinas dog food contributed to Kaylas death.
And she says a recent ConsumerAffairs.com investigation -- about the mysterious reproductive problems several Newfoundlands across the country have encountered -- confirmed her belief.
Our investigation revealed that healthy Newfoundlands -- in Idaho, Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- had suddenly stopped getting pregnant or -- if they conceived -- delivered deformed and dead puppies.
All these gentle giants had previously delivered healthy litters, their breeders said.
They were all two to five-years old, which veterinarians say is the best age for dogs to deliver healthy litters.
None of the dogs were related a factor that could have caused genetic problems.
And nothing in the breeders protocols had changed.
The only factor the Newfoundlands had in common was their food:
They all ate Purina dog food.
After I read your story, I was convinced that there was a link between the deaths of my dogs and what happened to those Newfoundlands, Julie says. What got me with your stories was how those breeders talked about the mummified fetuses (deceased puppies) their dogs had delivered. In Kaylas autopsy report, it talks about the mineralization of all her internal organs.
That made me think that theres a connection with those stone puppies and my dogs internal organs turning to stone.
Dr. Mickey, however, said theres no correlation.
Its not the same thing, he said. Kayla apparently had adrenal problems ... thats a metabolic disease.
I think they now realize something is wrong with their food.
If thats the case, Julie wonders why Purina is finally taking her concerns seriously.
In just the past two weeks, the pet food makers insurance company has requested copies of her dogs medical records and autopsy reports.
But when they called, they wanted me to know that my dogs deaths had nothing to do with the recall because they died before that action was announced, she says. I told them that stuff from China (melamine) could have been in the food long before anyone knew.
Purina, she says, downplayed her concerns when she first contacted the company last fall right after Kayla became sick.
One lady kept saying shed never heard of any adverse effects from the companys food. Purina also kept sending me letters (of condolences) and samples of their stinking food. That made me ever madder. I dont want their food. Ill never feed Purina again to my dogs. I cook for my dogs now and theyre much healthier.
Julie no longer recommends Purina to her customers, either.
Ive gone as far as to state in my puppy contract that if you feed Purina products, I have a right to void the health guarantee on the dogs, she says, adding her pups cost $1,000 to $1,500.
Of Purinas latest interest in her dogs deaths, Julie says: I think they now realize something is wrong with their food.
Purina Defends Its Products and Actions
A spokesman for Purina denied that assertion, saying theres nothing usual about his companys recent actions in Julies case.
He says it demonstrates Purinas commitment to its customers.
Weve been in contact with this consumer since last September and since weve worked with her that long, we like to follow up on the process, said spokesman Keith Schopp. We would want to gather the appropriate documents and any other records that we could look at and then take the appropriate action.
As part of our standard operating procedure, he added, we would initiate a claim and investigate a matter further if a consumer requested compensation above product replacement.
Schopp said he hadnt seen Beebles autopsy report, which stated the puppys liver problems were consistent with exposure to aflatoxins.
But there are no aflatoxins in our products in the United States, he said. Our veterinarians, however, would like to look at that autopsy report and talk her vet.
What about a possible connection between Julies concerns and those raised by the Newfoundland breeders?
Schopp said theres no link. This consumer is not reporting any reproductive issues.
He also defended his companys response to Julies concerns.
Weve expressed our sympathy for the loss of her dogs and told her that we want to find out more about her situation, he said.
What does Julie want from Purina?
The main reason I contacted them was because I didnt want any other dogs to die, she says. I wanted them to test the food and to apologize.
Julie says she didnt wage this battle against the St. Louis-based company for financial gain even though her vet bills total more than $2,750.
Im not out for money. I just dont want anyone else to go through a dogs mysterious death.
Kentucky Woman Blames Purina for Her Dogs' Deaths...