We know you know about Kongs (don’t you wish you’d invented them?) but we’d like to remind you that when your house is full of busy activities, and you have an irregular schedule and visitors, it can cause anxiety for the pets in the home. For dogs, one great calming activity can be working on extracting delicious foods from a Kong, and it has the added benefit of keeping them busy and therefore not underfoot. Chewing is also work, so Kongs can help on days when you just don’t have time to really run the dogs around as much as you’d like.
Kongs are one of the safest chews to give a dog, as they are made from natural rubber, are too large to swallow and are a good size to hold onto with their paws. Most people only think of smearing a bit of peanut butter inside, but you can be creative with other whole food Kong fillings to make them last longer and be even more appealing. (We don’t love the ingredients in the commercial fillings). Moist foods like plain yogurt, cooked sweet potato, a little cultured cottage cheese, banana, unsweetened applesauce, Green Juju or other finely minced greens/veggies, part of her regular serving of kibble (softened in water , fermented raw goat’s milk, or bone broth) can be stuffed into the Kong and frozen to make them last much longer.
– Pick out a Kong that’s big enough for your dog’s tongue to reach inside and lick out the fillings.
– If you have a puppy, pick out a bigger one knowing they will grow into it but don’t load them up with a full big Kong’s worth of food. It might be too much food. Remember that food can stimulate the need to poop for your puppy, so if you feed with a Kong in a crate, check on them before too long to take them out for a potty.
– For hard-chewing dogs, the black colored Kongs are even stronger than the red color.
The Feral Cat catio tour in Portland has sold out again this year! What’s a catio? It’s an enclosed outdoor space for kitties that keeps them safe from harm’s way and protects much of the wildlife that is harmed by outdoor cats every year. Between 2-4 billion birds a and 7 -20 billion small mammals are killed by cats in the U.S. alone. The introduction of cats has caused the extinction of at least 33 endemic species on islands throughout the world.
We of course adore our cats here in the U.S. and want them to be happy. I personally deeply respect their natural behaviors, and Mike and I try to meet Otis’ needs for interactive prey/predator simulation via interactive play every day. When we first adopted him at 10 years old, we were dedicated to turning him from an outdoor cat to an indoor cat – he had already been hit by a car in his lifetime, disappearing for a few days before showing up on the lawn and needing $5,000 in emergency surgery. He’s a fancy looking Himalayan with a laid back social nature, so he was stolen twice from his previous owner, and luckily recovered (one time by a friendly uniformed officer that was willing to mediate).When we met him he lived right near Green Dog, and started coming in our back door during the daytime and spending time socializing with all of us and our customers. Unfortunately, when he was outside, he was showing us how little he had learned about car safety by laying down for a bath right in the crosswalk on our busy street, or sprawling in the middle of a parking space along the side of the building. When he’d spot someone he wanted to visit, he’d just trot right through traffic to get to them. We felt like we had to save him from inevitable trouble with cars and luckily his owner was worried too and thrilled we wanted to take him.
We committed ourselves to daily environmental enrichment for him (regular introduction of piles of paper to play in, boxes with holes of different sizes, bags, etc rotated through his play area). Being food motivated, he also enjoyed learning tricks for treats (he learned about 16 of them over time). The most important part of the puzzle was daily interactive play. Using toys to simulate the movement of prey animals that he could chase and hunt was key to keeping him satisfied as an indoor cat. The best interactive toy remains the “Da Bird” toy with its various attachments (sparkle, mouse and of course the spinning flying feathers). For really energetic catches, we’d give him a treat. For his very best most spectacular catch of the evening, we ran upstairs and gave him a 3/4″ piece of bony meaty raw chicken neck, which allowed him to “hunt”, “catch” and “eat a bird” in a a fairly awesome simulated way. It was truly satisfying to him. It also supercharged our play sessions, making him ultra-motivated to play every night and to run harder and faster. He knew that there was something in it for him! What we haven’t done for him yet but we aspire to is to build him some sort of catio.
A catio is a structure (Cat Patio) that allows cats to be outdoors yet remain enclosed. It can be the simple modification of an existing porch by adding screening or mesh, it can be a structure built off of a window, or a tunnel system that they can travel through above the ground. It gives them the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, minus the risk. Even a small enclosure attached to a window can bring an indoor cat a lot of pleasure.
Can you imagine letting your dog out the door and into the city in the morning and saying “Have a good day! See you tonight! Hope you don’t get into trouble out there”? I can’t tell you how many stories we hear regularly in the store about losing their cats to coyotes, cars, infections due to fights, etc. Check out different catio designs online – you might be inspired!
In spring and summer, especially on the West Coast (and most especially in California), be on the lookout for foxtails and be aware of their tremendous potential to seriously harm your pet. Dogs do encounter them in Oregon, and the problem will likely increase as weather patterns are shifting. Foxtails are a kind of grass seed – many grass seeds have a similar look, but not all are as harmful as some. Dogs seem to be particularly at risk for complications from interacting with foxtails. The reason that some species are so dangerous is that they can quickly make their way into your dog’s body through literally any orifice, including the nose, eyes, ears and mouth, and they can also puncture the skin. Between the toes is a very common place for a foxtail to embed itself. The trouble is, the way the foxtail is designed, When it matures the foxtail head breaks apart into individual little barbs that are designed to both catch onto an animal’s coat and hitch a ride to a new location, and then allows it to burrow itself into the soil. If you touch any grass seed, it will be easy to stroke it from bottom to top, but from top to bottom you’ll feel a rough resistance. It manages to travel, and can only travel forward, not backwards. Once inside your dog’s body, foxtails can move relentlessly forward through the tissue and through the body. They can create abscesses, damage tissue, and cause an infection known as grass awn disease. They can migrate from inside your dog’s nose to its brain. They can dig through skin or be inhaled into — and then perforate — a lung. They can even slip into the crevices of a penis or vulva. They’re serious business.
Things to watch for if your dog has been running through dry grasses:
I just saw a little rant online from some well-intentioned woman begging dog owners to shave their poor dogs in the summer, as she felt so bad for them. I thought it might be helpful to address that question here.
Actually, shaving some breeds of dogs can actually make them quite a bit hotter.
Shaving some breeds can destroy their coat which may never grow back in correctly. More importantly, double-coated breeds are designed to shed their undercoat and leave the guard hairs (top coat) intact, which then acts to shield the dog from solar rays, reflecting them away.
When you shave the dog, it removes the protective layer exposing them to greater risk of sunburn, skin cancer, and especially heat stroke. The reason? Removing the top coat causes the fluffy base layer (the hot one that they usually shed in the summer) to grow back quickly, covering them with a thick hot layer of insulating fur. You’d be cursing them to wear their winter sweater in the heat instead of their sun shield! The other bummer about exposing the woolly undercoat is that it becomes a magnet for foxtails, burrs and dirt – the slipperier outer coat is more resistant to these things.
The 4th of July is a bad time for many pets around the country, but in places like Portland where people seem to be very big fans of fireworks and the larger illegal fireworks are so easy to get, it’s often a complete nightmare for people whose pets are terrified of the noise. Some people choose to go camping in remote areas with their dogs, and one customer routinely gets in the car with her dog on the 4th and just drives and drives for hours, around and around the city’s highways to avoid the stress of the night. Here are a few tips we hope can help if you’re staying at home this 4th of July.
So there’s a lot of information bouncing around the internet recently about grain-free foods contributing to heart disease in dogs. Like most things on the internet, much of this information is good, yet some downright irritating with its bad advice and misinterpretation of the facts. I thought I’d chime in and try to distill it for anyone that it’s interested. Truthfully, all kibble feeders should be interested. Please remember, I’m not bashing kibble per se, but those that feed it should be aware of its shortfalls. The good news is that its very easy and not expensive to provide excellent protection against these shortfalls when feeding a dry kibble diet!
So here’s the thing with this recent issue:
U.C. Davis reported an increase in heart disease (specifically dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM) in dogs eating grain free kibble, and when tested, they have low taurine levels. Some breeds of dogs (like boxers, dobermans, cavaliers, etc) have genetic predispositions to cardiomyopathy (a serious weakening of the heart muscle making it harder to pump blood through the body), but there’s a recent increase in cardiomyopathy in other breeds as well, linked to Taurine deficiency. Golden Retrievers may be especially vulnerable to this. The amazing news is that recent research is showing that when you improve their taurine levels through nutrition, they rapidly and significantly improve their heart function (even with other heart problems like murmurs and arrhythmias) Yay! Here’s what we do know: This definitely points to a nutritional problem with their diets.
Remember as you read other articles: Some dogs showing low taurine levels were eating food with grains. Some dogs with DCM didn’t have low taurine levels. There hasn’t been a formal study yet, this is still just an FDA investigation into reports of a handful of dogs that aren’t considered genetically predisposed to DCM presenting with the disease. More here
The good thing about this event is that FDA and the vets that are collaborating with them are suggesting that there may be a strong correlation between diet and Taurine deficiency. We concur!
We’re coming up on Earth Day this month, and as a Green store, this day is a major holiday for us. I wanted to post something inspirational here on this blog to mark the occasion. I want this day to be a day of celebration, as well as a call for advocacy and action, but it’s hard these days to be able to create enough hope in our hearts to actually celebrate, or to act. I want to suggest something that might help to restore your ability to hope and give you the energy to affect change, even if it is small.
These are tough times for the environment, to be sure. It can be extraordinarily overwhelming to know that massive changes are afoot; knowing that both polar ice caps are breaking apart and coastlines are becoming inundated, hearing the news that every 26 minutes an elephant is poached, that right whales haven’t reproduced this year successfully, that monarchs are disappearing rapidly due to weed killing pesticides, or that we’ve just lost our last male northern white rhino. In this country we live in, in these political times makes all this sort of news even more dire, as our leader has chosen for the heads of all of his major departments people who have specifically been committed to eliminating environmental protections. These problems all seem so unapproachable and so overwhelming, it starts to hurt our souls, and certainly can seem like nothing we do could possibly influence anything. But of course, as damage is done by the cumulative actions of many, damage may also be slowed, and policies changed. But even I, who thinks of these issues daily, who started a nonprofit conservation organization for orangutans and helped to run it for 10 years, then teamed up with my husband to start a business that attempts to educate and support positive change in the lifestyles of our customers and in our industry, these feelings of desperation send me into a paralyzing lethargy.
As I ponder how to speak to this issue, I realize that the one thing that saves my spirit every time is when I seek out adventures that bring me to places of natural beauty, visiting ecosystems that are fairly intact, and observing wildlife in ways that don’t negatively impact them. Even better is when my presence does something positive in any way to benefit the wildlife that I’m seeing. This restores my spirit in a way that nothing else can. It makes me happy, peaceful, and most importantly inspired anew to do something, anything, to make a difference. I’m here to try and encourage you to do the same, in big or small ways. We all play around in our heads with where we might like to go on our next vacation. What if you made plans not just to see an area of natural beauty, but to seek out a trip where your money not only gives you access to neat experiences or beautiful places, but actually helps to benefit the conservation of that place?
I’d like to share some stories of my most recent adventure, filled with bucket list activities that turned out to be more magical than I ever thought they’d be. It was an incredible gift that I gave myself, and the money I spent helped to support some amazing efforts to conserve what I now think of as a magical place.
In September of 2016, I stumbled on a tiny paragraph in the PCC catalog describing a trip to Baja Mexico where I might swim with whale sharks, help with a sea turtle banding/tracking project, and visit the friendly gray whales in their calving grounds. I swooned. These were several things I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager. The trip was put together by two cooperating organizations – SEE Turtles, and RED Travel Mexico. Both of these organizations work to bring tourists to areas of conservation interest and the money they spend supports the conservation projects on the ground. I started saving my money right away. Last summer on my 49th birthday I decided I would like to go on this trip in 2018 to celebrate my upcoming 50th. It was more amazing than I could have imagined.
Our home base was La Paz (a very pretty spot on the ocean and one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever seen) on the Sea of Cortez. We had a wonderful guide for the whole week that made sure everything went smoothly and educated us about the history of the places we visited, taught us about the plants, animals and geology of the places we visited, and introduced us to local people who had previously been fishermen who had taken it upon themselves to start up grassroots protection efforts to help protect their fisheries, and therefore their livelihood.
On the first day we were supposed to visit with whale sharks, but the ocean was very choppy – lucky us, we were then able to visit a National Biosphere Reserve (Rancho Ecologico Sol de Mayo), where a short hike through the desert where we learned about some of the threatened and endangered species of plants that were protected in this reserve suddenly ends in a stunning fresh water springs with a gorgeous waterfall, and we took a fabulous swim.
The next day the sea was calmer, and we were able to swim with whale sharks – a lifelong dream! I do have to say it was very different than I imagined – you see those photos and it seems like you’d get to hang out and watch them, but I’ll tell you – whale sharks are on the move, by design. The visibility is poor in these waters due to high concentrations of plankton, which is a whale shark’s food. To eat, they swim along at a steady pace with their big mouths wide open, gathering the bounty. You really have to swim your legs off to try and keep up with them and get just a few minutes to see them before they quickly outpace you. It was stupendous though to see them so close, to travel alongside them, and be in the presence of such a beautiful and enormous creature. Their spots seem illuminated from within. The best thing though was that organization we traveled with was responsible for completely revamping the whale shark tourist trade to be more responsible and to better care for the needs and safety of the whale sharks themselves. Apparently, just about everywhere else in the world that you can go see whale sharks, it’s a terrible circus. Whale sharks are crowded and stressed by boats and people, often injured by boat propellers. I would have been horrified to be a part of anything like that. RED Travel changed everything. Now, only a certain number of boats are allowed in these waters at a time, and the rest have to wait their turn. All boats must be licensed and display a flag, they must have a certified guide, and tourists pay a small fee that supports the industry and wear wrist bands as proof of payment – at one point a patrol boat came along and checked that all was in order. If another boat is near a shark, your boat may not approach that area. We only had 9 tourists in our group, and only half of us went into the water at a time. Our guide went first and signaled to us when it was time to slip in (not jump) into the water. Whale sharks don’t see well and as long as you give them room, I’m not sure that they really are very aware at all of their observers. I’ll never forget it.
Afterwards, we stopped for lunch on a little mangrove covered island, and got to know our boat captain and hear his fabulous story. He is a fisherman who fishes mainly for a species of clam that reaches sizes of over a foot long, but which had become dangerously over-fished and had almost disappeared. He slowly convinced other fishermen in the area to create a coalition to restore this clam population. They made an agreement to leave the smaller clams in place so they could actually grow large enough to reproduce. They only harvested clams after they were a certain size, and set limits for how many each could remove at a time. They each also volunteer their own time for shifts to monitor this area in their own small boats to ensure the rules were being followed, and this population is once again flourishing. This was no small feat! RED travel finds projects like these and supports and strengthens them, and also hires these people as boat captains for the tourists. This helps to supplement their income while also giving them another way to maintain their presence in the area watching out for their clams. ((Bonus for us: he also made us a fabulous ceviche for our lunch!)
This is the focus of this great organization. Many economic development activities simply aimed at income generation are likely to have negative impacts on biodiversity, unless the values of the biodiversity and related ecosystem services are factored in. If protecting habitat and the species that live there can create economic advantages for the people that live there, these areas will be well protected in order to protect this economic value. For example: Protecting mangroves creates habitat for thousands of animals, but most importantly, they are the nurseries for many species of fish. When the mangroves are protected, the fisheries can remain strong. When the residents are educated about the important role mangroves play in ensuring a healthy fishery, they are also shown the economic value of protecting it. When tourists come to see mangroves, they provide added income to residents. The tourists are given the opportunity to see these amazing places and learn about these relationships between healthy habitats and benefit to humans, they may carry this knowledge with them and see the world through this new lens. The money they bring to the area stimulates the economy thereby ensuring the area remains protected to be able to host more tourists.
On another day we visited Isla Espiritu Santo, an UNESCO world heritage site and Biosphere Reserve. It’s difficult to describe its beauty (that completely secluded beach at the top of this post is where we had lunch). This massive island was a geological wonder to me – every corner we turned looked different, geologically speaking. As a birder, traveling by a big Magnificent Frigate bird rookery and seeing the tiny fluffy white chicks through my binoculars while Blue Footed Boobies and other seabirds flew overhead was fantastic. As a treat we stopped and snorkeled near a colony of sea lions. People have been snorkeling here for more than 30 years, and the youngsters are quite happy to entertain themselves by swimming by and investigating the tourists (who are cordoned off from much of the rookery). It was amazing for me, as I once worked with captive sea lions, so it was a gift to watch them from underwater in their natural element – they are incredibly graceful and beautiful in the water.
We traveled across to the other coast of Baja to Isla Magdalena. The bay is a major calving ground for Gray whales. There were so many whales everywhere in this bay! We stayed in an isolated tent camp on the desert island with no one else for miles around.
It was truly magical. The bright stars filled the sky from horizon to horizon. While I was walking at night in complete darkness close to the shore, I suddenly heard a whale spout and then deeply inhale, so very close to me. What chills that gave me! Coyotes who were passing through the tent grounds before dawn stopped and sang their crazy group song, right outside of my tent. We went out in the boat at night, in complete darkness, with the stars sparkling overhead and the water of our wake sparkling with bio-luminescence. We had breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, our 360 degree view unimpeded by buildings or trees.
Showing us the details of all the measurements and other observations we’d record the next day
Our primary activity at the camp besides whale watching was to participate in their Sea Turtle research. The man running our data collection project had been a fisherman who caught sea turtles and sold their meat like any other “fish”. When he encountered this project and the people at RED, he began to see turtles in a whole new light, growing to admire and respect them. He and several other local men are now employed by the project coordinating the data collection events, though funding isn’t as available to do as much data collection when tourists are not present. The more often tourists visit the camp, the more often the project can set up the nets, the more often data can be collected, and the more income they have. The turtles are tagged and the data they take sheds light on growth rates and health of the population (a few that we caught were recaptures, so they will be able to compare their data with the last time they were measured and weighed. The data is then shared with other organizations, and other projects that encounter these tagged turtles have valuable information on their movement patterns, etc. This project also regularly invites other fishermen from the area to observe data collection, as some have described a shift in perception when they see the importance of these animals through the eyes of the people studying them and the reverence that tourists have for the animals they’re interacting with. Now they make it a point to invite them when they can, and some ultimately become involved with the project themselves. It was a real privilege for us to see these beautiful animals up close, to be sure.
The 40 foot long mother, Lucrecia, and our Hugo, our fabulous guide
But Oh, the whales! Visiting the friendly gray whales of Magdalena Bay was truly the most meaningful part of the trip for me, and was one of the most special wildlife encounters I’ve had in my life. In Magdalena Bay there’s a very special situation: Starting in October gray whales leave the Arctic and travel down the coastline, arriving by late December or early January to their calving grounds in the warm waters of this protected area – the longest migration of any mammal. The females don’t feed much during this time in the bay- most of their activity centers around nursing and teaching the calves valuable survival skills in safe surroundings, so they have a fair amount of leisure time. They seem to really enjoy occasionally visiting with people who are on the little boats and the whales are the ones who choose to do it. I’ve always been strongly opposed to the idea of any human trying to get close and interact with wildlife as it carries such a risk, not just for the people involved, but more importantly for the animals, killed for behaving like the wild animals that they are. Habituation all too often leads to conflict and the wildlife always loses. Except here, in this very unique situation. It makes sense, actually. The whales are incredibly intelligent, more than we humans understand I believe. They’re enormous (40ft long) and in charge of this situation. Gray whales don’t generally engage in this behavior any other time except in this place (though occasionally our resident population of gray whales off the coast of Oregon will approach a boat and take a closer look at who’s visiting), which also makes sense. When you’re a gray whale, everywhere else there’s pressure to survive: you must feed intensely to maintain energy for the migration, especially in the intense cold of the Arctic. Orcas try to hunt your babies. There are oil rigs, fishing vessels and massive Swordfish gill nets to avoid. You have to get somewhere far far away and you can only travel at 5 miles an hour. But in Baja in the warm waters of this protected bay it’s all vacation time for them, and also have plenty of time to teach their babies basic skills they’ll need on their migration. Just like with whale sharks, there are now strict rules surrounding tourism in these waters. The whales certainly don’t approach every boat. The female and baby that approached ours traveled alongside us for about a half hour first. I hear that if they approach a boat and no one interacts with them they leave. This mother (Lucrecia) even boosted her calf (Lunar) up a bit to reach us better, so we could reach him! Our guide had told us, “We won’t follow or approach them, but if a whale reaches up to you, you may go ahead and touch it”. His nose was squishy and rubbery and I cried. We all got chances to visit with him. We also saw some behaviors that genuinely looked like training exercises (ask me in the store – I’ll glad you tell you stories about the amazing things we saw them do) and we even watched a female nurse her baby. It was transcendent. Our guide said, “This bay used to be a place of carnage for these whales. Throughout history we have treated whales horrifically, and still they forgive us.” I feel so grateful that our perception as humans towards the wildlife has changed in this beautiful, special, sacred place, and that we now honor the animals that come to Magdalena Bay and who rely on it as a sanctuary. I’m grateful that there are ways for tourists to honor and support the people who live there and who value the environmental resources that they have, so that the habitat is worth more when it’s intact than when it is destroyed. I hold that concept dear, and hope that others can visit places all over the world like this, to learn about the magic and beauty and importance of nature, and more importantly, to make sure that their activities don’t harm the species they go there to see. And it’s even better if their presence results in the economic support of efforts to protect that area for others.
Luckily, we can learn about and have magical moments experiencing the wild places close to home, often for free.
There are a myriad of organizations here and all over the world that seek to help visitors do this. Having a guide really enriches the whole experience of exploring a new place – you wouldn’t imagine how many things you otherwise might miss that someone who knows the habitat can teach you. You’ll come to appreciate the complexity and inter-connectedness of all of the plants and animals that share that beautiful place. If you have kids, it’s critical in this day and age to teach them about the people and wildlife of the region they’re visiting, and of the environment we all share. Next time you want to get outdoors on the weekend, check out some of the local resources below. Many guided experiences are free, but perhaps you’ll make a small donation to the organization that’s hosting you, to support their work. Next time you want to take a bigger vacation, Google words like “conservation ecotours”, or “volunteering in Costa Rica”, for example. You never know what magical experiences you’ll find! Here are just a few:
SEE Turtles (the Baja trip I took even allowed kids as young as 7 to participate)
RED Travel Mexico – there are day trips and multi day experiences, including each of the activities I described above. They’ll even set up a tent camp for small to large groups.
Friends Of The Gorge outings – With 100+ guided outings a year to choose from, there is something for everyone! Whether it be wildflower walks, kayak trips, geology tours, or bike rides they’ve made it easy for you to enjoy unique outings in all areas of the Columbia Gorge. Each outing has an educational theme and is led by knowledgeable volunteer hike leaders and shepherds. Many are free.
Audubon Society – “On short hikes and easy walks, we’ll focus our attention on trees, wildflowers, reptiles and amphibians, butterflies and other insects, and geology. And as always, we’ll be on the lookout for birds and other wildlife!”
They offer Eco trips all over Oregon, Alaska, Olympic Peninsula, New Mexico, etc, as well as spring summer and winter break camps for K-12
Green Life volunteers – solar power project, parrot rehab on the Osa Peninsula (an amazing place), turtle projects, and even dog rescue!
You might be glad to know that we’ve uncovered some drop off sites for recycling soft plastic in our area! (baggies, produce bags, bread bags, toilet paper wrap, etc). You might remember that China stopped accepting mixed plastics due to contamination issues, and just like that, our ability to recycle many kinds of plastic dried up overnight. (More about that here). We recently stumbled on a site that helps you find convenient drop-off locations for soft plastics in the area, and then did some more digging to make sure it was true. We were skeptical, as we’d heard recent stories on NPR about what a backlog Portland still has of recycled material with no buyers, and that they might have to landfill a lot of the curbside plastic they’ve collected. Turns out, there are processing capabilities for film in the U.S. by companies that have always bought and continue to buy retailer films (and also those recycled by customers). The type of materials that are backlogged in Portland had always been shipped to China and that’s why there is such urgency to find a solution for those now that that market has dried up. Not all plastic is the same to a market or processor— much of the material that China was taking was in mixed bales of several types of harder plastic (like clamshells and plastic lids). There are few markets for that in the U.S., thus the backlog. However, segregated materials like film, PET bottles and HDPE bottles/containers, because they each are a single resin and collected separately, are easier to market here in the US. This is great news! So, here’s a link for where you can find a drop off spot in your area! (the closest one to the store is Safeway on NE Fremont St.) Don’t miss the link describing examples of the type of plastic you can bring to recycle. Make sure it’s clean and dry, and if you’re unsure of whether you can recycle it, leave it out. We don’t want to lose this recycling opportunity due to contamination.
I’m sure you have started to hear some things about a class action lawsuit filed against Champion Pet Foods, the makers of Acana and Orijen pet foods. We believe the claims asserted in the lawsuit are merit-less and Champion Pet Foods does intend to vigorously defend itself in the litigation. The Class Action Complaint makes reference to the Clean Label Project, which claims to be an initiative that tests pet foods for heavy metals and other contaminants. It appears the group has relied upon opaque testing methods to generate erroneous claims, but unfortunately, the group does not disclose its testing methodologies or procedures used, making it difficult to determine how the results were reached.
We first learned of this issue almost a year ago, when a news story covered the Clean Label Project’s allegations against Champion foods. On first look the Clean Label Project looks to be the organization we’ve always wanted; an independent testing organization that would help to monitor pet food for contaminants like aflatoxins, lead, nutritional quality, etc. However (more…)
This week we had to tell our customers about another voluntary recall of raw pet food. The Rad Cat Company was notified by the FDA and the Ohio Department of Agriculture after several tubs of multiple varieties of Rad Cat Raw Diet were purchased and tested. All samples tested negative for E. Coli and Salmonella but two tested positive for Listeria Monocytogenes.
Outdoor cats likely encounter Listeria frequently, as Listeria is a common presence in nature, found widely in such places as water and soil, leafy vegetables and animal products. It could however be a danger to some animals who eat it, and especially to the people that might handle the food without washing their hands or the surfaces exposed to it after feeding it.
We believe Rad Cat when they say that their third party inspections have come back clean. We’ve been in their kitchens and have never seen a facility so tightly controlled for cleanliness and safety. Their sourcing is impeccable. They use High Pressure Pasteurization to kill any bacteria that might be found on the poultry products before they are processed into their formulas, and they test the finished product with a third party lab, doing a full aerobic plate count. They then hold the food for a time before shipping it and it is tested again before releasing it to the distributor. The temperature is controlled through every step of its journey and even tested here at the store upon receipt to ensure that it was maintained as it traveled to us. More details here. If only our human foods were handled and controlled for safety as strictly as the foods made at Rad Cat! We feed it with confidence to Otis, our senior cat. If I were pressed to name my favorite of the more than 4,500 items we carry, Rad Cat would be in my top two.
It might be an opportune time to mention our frustration with the disparity between how the FDA treats raw foods vs. how they treat other pet foods like kibble. Raw food is under intense scrutiny, but the facts point to a significant lack of scrutiny towards kibble based foods, despite the fact that in past years dry food recalls have far outpaced raw food recalls, and the most significant recalls, complaints of illnesses, and death have all resulted from contaminated dry pet foods.
A Few Examples: Over 100 dogs died in 2005 from aflatoxin Poisoning (a very dangerous, carcinogenic grain mold, most commonly found in corn but is also possible in ingredients like peas). Surveys done in 2016 show that aflatoxin has been found in higher amounts than ever (A total of 387 corn samples and 79 distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) samples from across the U.S. were tested. Results revealed that 90 percent of corn samples and 100 percent of DDGS samples were contaminated by at least one mycotoxin, and 96 percent of the DDGS samples contained more than one), yet there have been no aflatoxin recalls since 2013. We must assume that FDA must not be testing regularly for aflatoxins.
Judging from the number of recalls for Salmonella in raw foods, it
would lead you to believe that there is a significant risk of salmonella in raw foods, and in fact the FDA even issued a warning about the risks of salmonella in raw pet food. However, from 2010 – 2015, 78 types of kibble pet food were recalled due to salmonella contamination, vs. 27 for raw foods. What this number doesn’t even capture is the sheer quantity of kibble that was recalled during this time, vs. raw foods with single lot numbers/single flavors. In the 2013 the Natura recall was massive – millions of pounds – and included all of its many formulas including treats (“All Lot Codes, All UPC’s, All package sizes, All expiration dates”). The recall for salmonella in the Diamond foods that were produced at their South Carolina Plant in 2012 resulted in the recall of all of their brands and stopped ALL production for a time. The Taste of the Wild part of this recall alone resulted in over 10 million pounds of food being pulled from store shelves.
No Warnings About Dry Foods
Neither the FDA or the AVMA has ever issued a formal warning about the risk of salmonella in all pet foods. In fact, the same week that the AVMA issued a warning to consumers about the risk of salmonella in raw pet foods, there were (according to the CDC) a total of 49 individuals (47 individuals in 20 states and two individuals in Canada) infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Infantis related to this salmonella recall at Diamond foods. This included at least 10 people hospitalized. The FDA has announced regular testing for raw foods, but not for dry pet foods. In fact, they have not appeared to test any dry pet foods recently, as there have been no salmonella recalls for dry pet food since 2015, which is in stark contrast to many years before this time.
A class action suit was dropped against Beneful in 2016 stating, “The Court rejects Plaintiffs’ position that a reasonable jury could find Beneful unsafe based on the mere fact that 1,400 dogs ate Beneful and got sick or died thereafter. This is insufficient evidence of causation.” So many complaints of illness and death had been reported by Beneful consumers to the FDA that they did do some testing. Some samples came back positive for Melamine (the same thing found in that terrible 2007 recall that resulted in hundreds, possibly thousands of deaths), and some samples came back positive for ethoxyquin, a euthanasia drug so recently implicated in that Evanger’s recall that killed a dog. Beneful also refused access to the FDA to records and didn’t allow them to photograph their manufacturing plant. Yet the FDA did not issue any warning nor was there any sort of a recall. Can you imagine a brand of raw food with 1,400 allegations of sickness and deaths without repercussions?
We certainly do not mean to minimize the risks of any pathogen in any form of pet food, especially to the humans that handle these foods and are not as well equipped as their carnivorous pets to stay healthy when exposed. We just wish the FDA, AVMA, and Big Pet Food would hold all pet foods to the same standards of safety.