It was New Year’s Eve when Nikki Mael fed her four pugs – Tito, Tank, Tinkerbell and Talula – the single can of dog food, Evanger’s Hunk of Beef, as a treat. Within 15 minutes, the pugs were “acting drunk” and “falling over.” Mael, who is from Washougal, Washington, quickly rushed them to the local emergency vet, where the four dogs were placed in the intensive care unit. One of the pugs that ate the most canned beef died. A toxicology report later revealed the cause of her death. A drug called pentobarbital, a euthanasia agent, was found in both the dog’s stomach and the Evanger’s dog food. “If this sample came directly from a can,” the toxicologist wrote, “this is an urgent matter.”
According to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) statement, Evanger’s, a family-owned-and-operated cat and dog food business, decided to voluntarily recall five lots of the product – all of the Hunk of Beef products that were manufactured that same week. The products were distributed to retail locations and sold online in 15 states: Washington, California, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Despite having worked with the supplier of this specific beef for about 40 years, Evanger’s cut its ties with the supplier, which also serves a number of other companies. “Something like this seemed impossible,” Evanger’s said in its statement. “All of our raw materials are sourced from USDA-inspected facilities, and many of them are suppliers with whom we have had long-standing relationships.”
The source of the contamination is still unknown. But since pentobarbital is routinely used to euthanize animals, the most likely way it could get into dog food would be in rendered animal products, according to a 2002 FDA report. Rendered products undergo a process that converts animal tissues to feed ingredients, the report stated, and pentobarbital seems to be able to survive this process. If animals are euthanized with pentobarbital and subsequently rendered, pentobarbital could remain in the rendered feed ingredients. But, Evanger’s said, research suggests pentobarbital is most pervasive in dry dog foods that source rendered ingredients, unlike Evanger’s, which primarily manufactures canned foods that would not contain any rendered materials.
The company said it was previously “unaware of the problem of pentobarbital in the pet food industry.” It said that after looking into it and speaking with several suppliers, it discovered a number of holes in regulations by the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chelsea Sher, whose parents own the company, said in a video statement that the company’s goal is now to “close that gap” to ensure that no euthanized animal ever makes it into the pet food stream.
Evanger’s donated the full $5,800 fundraising goal on the crowdfunding page that Ms. Mael created to raise money for her pugs’ veterinary bills. “We at Evanger’s are deeply horrified about this,” the company said in a message to Ms. Mael, adding “we also feed our own dog, Lilly, this food.” The company later said it would be making a donation to a local shelter in honor of Talula.
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