Pet Jerky Treat Deal: Six Things You Need to Know

Toby, a 6-year-old Boston terrier, died in May 2012 after he was sickened by chicken jerky pet treats, his owners say. The Connecticut family is among many nationwide who have reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against two top treat makers. courtesy the Mawaka family

No one is admitting fault in a $6.5 million class-action settlement in the legal battle between pet owners who claimed their animals were injured or killed by eating chicken jerky treats made in China and the makers of two of the nation’s big-name brands.

At least one of the two dozen pet owners who sued Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and Waggin’ Train LLC said Monday that the agreement is a “bittersweet” victory.

“No amount of money, no amount of anything, is going to make any of this right,” said Robin Pierre, 52, of Pine Bush, N.Y. “These dogs died by our hands. We weren’t able to make an educated choice.”

Pierre says her 2-year-old pug, Bella, died in 2011 from kidney failure after eating Waggin’ Train treats. The settlement filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Northern Illinois covers Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch brand dog treats made and sold before January 2013.

Food and Drug Administration officials say many brands of the jerky strips, nuggets and other products have been linked to deaths of more than 1,000 dogs and more than 4,800 complaints of pet illness. But, the agency also says it hasn’t been able to pinpoint a cause, despite extensive testing.

If you think your animal was harmed, here’s what you need to know:

What is the settlement? Who is included?

Under the settlement, which still has to be approved by a judge, Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and Waggin’ Train LLC have agreed to create a $6.5 million cash fund for owner expenses. The settlement would be open to any consumer whose pet may have used or eaten the dog treat products and suffered harm before a voluntary recall issued in January 2013.

What does the settlement cover?

Pet owners may be eligible to receive a cash payment of up to 100 percent of certain documented expenses that were directly tied to their pet’s consumption of the jerky treats, including health screenings, veterinary bills and costs for necropsies, cremation or burial. A certain amount of undocumented expenses may be covered, too.

Is there more to the settlement than just the cash fund?

Yes, under the agreement, Nestle Purina PetCare Corp. would agree to use a single-source supplier of meat for its treats, and to conduct new and rigorous testing of every batch of products. In addition, the company would include bold labels on every package about where the product originated.

How do I file a claim?

If the settlement is approved, affected pet owners can complete and submit the claim form included in Exhibit 8 of the agreement posted here. A preliminary hearing could be held in early July, with a final hearing likely five or six months later, after which the funds would be distributed, said Thomas Soule, a Chicago lawyer who helped broker the deal.

Does this mean the jerky treat makers are saying their products harmed dogs?

No. Nestle Purina PetCare Co. officials have consistently said that tests have detected no contaminants and that their treats are safe to feed as directed. Under terms of the settlement, neither the company nor the pet owners concede that their claims or defenses were not valid. Millions of dogs eat the treats in the U.S. every year; a tiny fraction fall ill with gastrointestinal illness, kidney failure or Fanconi syndrome, which have been linked to the treats.

How will I hear if the settlement is approved?

Under the agreement, Nestle Purina and Waggin’ Train would have to let consumers know about the settlement in a variety of ways. They’d have to buy ads in two consecutive editions of People magazine and an edition of Sports Illustrated. They’d have to buy banner ads on internet sites including Facebook, MSN and Yahoo! as well as banner ads on Greystripe, a mobile network. They’d be required to link to the settlement on their website and to buy mobile search ads on Google, Yahoo! and Bing so that consumers would be directed to the settlement site.