Nestle Purina, Pet Owners Settle Dog Treat Lawsuit

A class-action settlement would allow U.S. pet owners to be reimbursed if they believe their dog was harmed by Waggin’ Train or Canyon Creek Ranch treats.

Waggin’ Train Yam Good and Canyon Creek Ranch Chicken Tenders are among dozens of dog treats identified in the settlement of a class-action lawsuit.

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Nestle Purina PetCare Co. has reached a proposed $6.5 million settlement with dog owners who claimed that the manufacturer's Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats sickened or killed their pets.

The class-action settlement, which awaits a federal judge's approval, would allow any U.S. pet owner who believes the company's Chinese-made products harmed their dog to be reimbursed not only for the treats they purchased but for any veterinary and post-death expenses incurred.

The amount available to pet owners would be significantly less than $6.5 million once attorney fees, administrative expenses and other costs are deducted. The law firms representing the class plaintiffs will ask the judge to approve up to $2.15 million in legal fees.

The settlement would become the latest chapter in a seven-year-old saga over potentially tainted pet treats. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported in mid-May that 5,600 dogs, 24 cats and three people had became ill after eating pet jerky treats, many of them made in China. More than 1,000 dogs died.

Whether Chinese-made treats sold by Nestle Purina and other pet product manufacturers are to blame is unclear. After years of investigations and laboratory work, the FDA has been unable to conclusively link the treats with any pet illnesses or deaths.

The settlement, announced Friday, is the most recent action taken by treat manufacturers or retailers. The national pet product chains Petco and PetSmart announced in May that they would stop selling Chinese-made treats as early as Jan. 1, 2015. The treats remain on store shelves in the meantime.

Nestle Purina voluntarily recalled all Chinese-made Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats in January 2013 after traces of antibiotics were discovered in samples. The St. Louis-based company this past February relaunched Waggin' Train with the release of three treats – Smoky Jerky Snacks, Jerky Duos and Chicken Jerky Tenders – and announced strict sourcing and manufacturing processes to ensure the products' safety.

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Among the changes, which the company also agreed to in the settlement, are the use of single-sourced chicken, periodic inspections of the Chinese chicken producer and treat manufacturer, and the testing of samples for unapproved substances such as antibiotics, heavy metals and salmonella.

The class-action settlement does not assign any blame to Nestle Purina for pet illnesses or deaths.

"While there is no indication the treats negatively impacted the health of the dogs, this resolution allows everyone involved to move forward," the company stated.

The Chicago law firm representing co-plaintiff and pet owner Dennis Atkins acknowledged that both sides wanted to avoid a lengthy and costly court fight.

"All parties entered into the agreement only to bring the litigation to a prompt and certain resolution," the law firm Edelman, Combs, Latturner & Goodwin stated.

The settlement followed nine months of negotiations and mediation. Three plaintiffs – Atkins and fellow pet owners Faris Martin and Rosalinda M. Gandara – each would receive $5,000 from the fund for leading the case.

The settlement, if approved by Illinois federal Judge Robert W. Gettleman, would set in motion a process by which pet owners nationwide would be alerted to the opportunity to submit a claim form. A court date has not been scheduled.

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