Sunday, November 18, 2007

How's Your Cat Relationship?

This past week, Liz and I celebrated three years since we adopted Arthur and Beowulf. Not a day goes by when we do not realize how lucky we are to have them in our lives. They are a constant source of love and support for us.

They comfort us on our worst days and amuse us on our best days. Sure, sometimes they do things which try our patience, but don't all of our loved ones?

When I talk to people who don't have cats, I find that I've become a cat advocate. I tend to think that other people would be a lot happier if they had cats to come home to. The other day, a friend was telling me about how her daughter keeps dating the wrong kind of man, because she's looking for acceptance. I said "can't she just get a pair of cats? They'll boost her self confidence and she won't need to rush into a bad relationship."

I could be totally wrong here, but I wonder if certain tough periods in my life might have been a little easier if I had had cats at the time. Maybe being an awkward teen would have been a little better if I came home to purrs. Maybe going through some tough breakups with girlfriends would have been easier. Maybe there are times in my life when I would have had more confidence if I knew I was getting the kind of unconditional love you can only get from an animal companion.

On the other hand, millions of people have cats and it looks like many of them are not experiencing the same kind of relationshp with their cats that I have with mine.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a friend who adopted a cat a few months ago. I asked him how it's going and he said "my cat is just not friendly. She keeps to herself and only interacts with us when she needs something." If I had that kind of cold relationship with my boys, I would not be a cat advocate at all. I'd probably feel like the whole relationship was a waste.

To be fair, I don't have all the facts. My friend lives far away and I've never seen him interact with a cat nor have I met his "cold" cat. But what I wonder is this. Is his cat non-social, because he isn't raising her right, because she was born that way, or maybe because she's the only cat in the household?

Perhaps it is better to ask "why is my cat relationship such a good one?" Is it because:

  • Arthur and Beowulf are just special guys who are particularly friendly and sweet?

  • They were born in a shelter and I adopted them at an early age (10 weeks) so they've always known human kindness and never wanted for anything?

  • They have each other so they are never lonely?

  • Liz and I have put a fair amount of effort into building the relationship?

What makes one person's cat relationship a life-altering experience and another person's cat relationship cold and distant? Why are my cats important, active members of the family while other people's cats become part of the house, like pieces of furniture? Is it the cats or the people?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Purrs Set to Stun

Ever sit down with your cat and realize that, just by touching his or her body, a wave of relaxation rolls through your entire body and you can't help but fall asleep within minutes?

Liz and I have this "problem." We'll sit down on the couch, one or both of the boys will come over and sit next to or on us, and we'll drift off to sleep for a long time. Liz refers to this effect as the "purr ray." I refer to it as a purr drug, because the feeling is so addictive and it knocks you out like a strong drink.

On weekends and nights when I know I have time, I'll go over to the couch and wait for Arthur or Beowulf to come. The downside is, after they arrive, hours will disappear. Liz got these compromising pictures of me strung out on purr.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Beowulf Rings "Dinner Bell" for Service

It's hard for us humans to train cats, but it's not as hard for them to train us! Beowulf has trained me to come when called and to give him more kibble.

He will go into the kitchen, stand on top of the litterbox and meow at the top of his lungs. If I don't respond to his meowing in short order, he will start banging the litter scoop, which sits tightly in between the litterbox and the garbage can. We call this "ringing the dinner bell" for service. If I don't respond to his banging of the scoop, he'll swat the scoop onto the floor, causing me to go into the kitchen, pick it up, and throw him more kibble while I'm there.

He'll do this even when he has plenty of kibble in the bowl, so maybe it's not about kibble but about attention. I'm not sure. A few times he has called when he wants fresh water or the litterbox to be cleaned, but usually it's for kibble.

I'd like to get him to stop this practice, but I'm not sure how. I could move the scoop, but I'm not sure where I'd put it and frankly, if it weren't the scoop, he'd find another way of calling for service. Maybe I should just accept the call.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wet Food - They Just Won't Eat It

Our food situation is terrible right now. I have always fed the boys a mix of wet and dry food and they have always been very picky about which wet foods they would eat. It has gotten to the point where there is only one wet food they will even sniff and that's Solid Gold Blended Tuna.

Before the pet food recall, I used to feed the boys Nutro packet food and they would lick up the juice from it. Now I wouldn't even consider feeding them Nutro packet food.

I hear that it is bad to feed cats tuna on a frequent basis so I'm at the point where I don't give them wet food every day. They won't touch any other wet food I've given them and I've tried so many great brands. I tried every flavor of Weruva, tried all kinds of Merrick, Abady, Spot's Stew, etc. If you name it and it's a decent brand, I've tried it. They won't even touch other brands of tuna!

I've tried adding all kinds of flavoring and condiments to the wet food we have. On the advice of a guy at the pet store, I bought a box of Liv-a-Littles and crumbled them up into the wet food without success. I tried mixing tuna flakes into the wet food and Beowulf just picked out the flakes and left the food. I bought a bottle of Grizzly Salmon Oil and sprayed it on the food. I tried mixing Solid Gold Tuna with other canned foods, but that didn't work either. I'm at an impasse.

As for dry food, I had to give up on Orijen. I liked Orijen's nutritional info a lot, but Arthur wouldn't eat it so right now all the boys are eating is California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice. What can I do to get them to eat something else? Or should I just be happy that they have dry food they like?

Comfort During a Tough Time

The past couple of months were a tough time of going on interviews and waiting by phones and email, but I have a new job now, not working for cats, but working for people at the Parks Department. As I sat around the house on pins and needles for several weeks, my boys did everything they could to help me relax.

Beowulf was particularly helpful. Every morning I'd get up and he'd follow me around until I sat down at my desk to check my email. He'd jump up on the desk before I could even move the mouse and he'd sit in front of the keyboard until I let him rest his chin on my arm for a few minutes. After feeling his purr for a few minutes, I was much more relaxed and able to face whatever I had going on each day -- interviews, phone calls, or just waiting by the inbox and phone for news.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Will Work for Cats?

I've been a terrible blogger lately and I could give you a littany of excuses, but excuses aren't very interesting. Nonetheless, for those interested:

  • I found a new job and it took up a ton of time
  • I planned my wedding and that took up a ton of time.
  • When I had time to blog, I decided to spend it cuddling with the boys themselves
Now, things are a little different. I am, unfortunately, now between jobs and have some time to reassess what I want to do with this whole Web and cat thing.

Honestly, I wish I could make a career out of it in some way. I've thought about starting an online cat store or cat information site that could get some traffic. However, I don't think I have the stomach to start a business.

Hey, if anyone has any ideas or leads for me -- maybe a job doing Web work for an animal agency or company -- please drop me a line or feel free to pass my online resume around.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Big Day Goes Purrfectly

My new wife Liz and I just returned from our honeymoon in Greece late last night, and are still trying to beat the jet lag and rest up for work on Monday. That said, I wanted to say that the wedding itself went really well and was very cat-centric, thanks to ideas we got from commenters on this blog.

As you can see from the pictures below, we had a cat cake topper (Liz's mom added the veil and bow tie to the existing models) and we placed a sign near the bar that invited our guests to order special signature drinks, either an Arthurtini (Appletini) or a Beowulf Iced Tea (many thanks to jancola for this idea). We also left notes on each table, informing our guests that we were donating money to Bidawee (the shelter where we adopted our boys) in lieu of giving party favors.

BTW, if you are interested in seeing some non-cat-related pictures from our wedding, my cousin Naomi has posted some pictures she took of the cermemony and reception.

Liz and I cut the cake.

Cat Wedding Cake Topper
The cat topper close-up. Unfortunately, it was too large and heavy to actually put on the cake.

This placard was placed on the bar and reads:

Our favorite humans are getting married. We would love to be there to help them celebrate the special day, but we have a prior engagement as you can see.

So please have a drink on us.

Order a Beowulf Iced Tea or an Arthurtini and raise your glass to Avram and Liz, our most devoted ear scratchers and belly rubbers.

Love, Arthur and Beowulf

Before I go off to take a long nap myself, I just wanted to give a shout-out and high praise to my cat sitters, Leslie Kaufman of On All Fours Cat Sitting and her assistant Holly. They visited twice a day while we were gone and really did a great job of caring for our boys. I'd recommend them to anyone in New York City who needs a cat sitter.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Big Day Finally Arrives

The level of work and stress from both my new job and wedding planning has really kept me away from this blog, but now the day has finally arrived. Our Big Cat Wedding is taking place tomorrow.

Unfortunately, we can't have the boys attend our wedding, but they will be there in spirit. As I said in a prior post, we are giving a donation to Bideawee in lieu of party favors, we got a pair of cats as our wedding cake topper, and our guests will be invited to order one of two signature drinks, a Beowulf Iced Tea or an Arthurtini.

This is an exciting time, but also a stressful one, not only because of the wedding but also because of the honeymoon, which is going to be the first time that Liz and I are really away from the boys for any period of time. My cousin is staying over here for part of the time and a professional cat-sitter is coming over a few times a day for another part of the time, but I am still very nervous and a little wracked with guilt over going away for a few days.

Hopefully the boys will be fine, but will they be angry at us for leaving them?

Beowulf and Arthur

Monday, April 23, 2007

New Food, New Water, Old Problems

This weekend, I started my boys on two new things:

  1. Orijen: My Orijen finally arrived and the results are mixed. Beowulf gobbles down the Orijen just like he gobbled down the California Natural and the Wellness before it. However, Arthur won't eat Orijen, and he won't eat other kibble if it's sitting in the same bowl as the Orijen. I even tried putting tuna flakes or other treats in the bowl and he'll eat these without touching the kibble.

    I am concerned because this means that Arthur is not eating kibble right now. I don't want him to starve, but I do want him to learn to eat the Orijen. At what point should I give up? If I put the Orijen in one bowl and California Natural in the other, Beowulf will probably try to eat them both, because he usually eats kibble as soon as its put down, while Arthur comes back and eats at his leisure.

    When it comes to wet food, however, Beowulf is very picky and won't eat most of the wet foods I feed.

  2. Fresh Flow Waterer: I got a Fresh Flow waterer and set it up yesterday. I have yet to see the boys drink from it, although I have seen that the water level went down over night and some crud got into the bowl. This means that either the water evaporated or the boys drank from it. Because I didn't want the boys to dehydrate, I kept their regular water bowl filled also and I have seen them drink out of that

Both situations are frustrating, because I'm trying to move to healthier food and healthier water and I'm not sure how to make them catch on. Any ideas?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Natural Balance Dry Now Recalled

Is no brand trustworthy? I sang the praises of Natural Balance food just a few posts ago, and now it turns out their food is contaminated too.

It's a good thing I bought California Natural dry food this weekend, rather than Natural Balance, which I almost bought. Let's hope California Natural is not next. Funny thing is that I very nearly bought Natural Balance Venison and Green Pea dry cat food on Saturday.

Ironically, the reason I found the venison and green pea formula attractive is this statement on Natural Balance's site:

No Artificial Preservatives, Flavors, Colors, or Bleached Ingredients. Does not contain Corn, Soy, Wheat, Rice, Eggs, Dairy Products or Sunflower Oil.

I must be an idiot because I thought that no soy, wheat, or rice meant just that. However, Natural Balance's recall press release states:
We believe the source of the melamine is a rice protein concentrate.

How can something which claims to have "no rice," contain a rice protein concentrate? Does that sound wrong to anyone?

The boys took to the California Natural dry food right away. My Orijen is coming in the mail on Thursday, and I pray that it's everything it's cracked up to be.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Weekend Morning with Beowulf

My new job is stess-packed. It's exciting, but there is so much to do every day and so little time to do it. I look at my weekends as a time to decompress, but also a time to work on some of the work projects I can't do in the office, because I'm constantly shuttling from meeting to meeting.

Of course, sometimes I'll sit down on the couch for a minute and a minute will turn into three or four hours after Beowulf comes over and sits with me. It's hard to get up and easy to fall asleep in a situation like this.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Taste-Testing Some Dry Foods

Many thanks to all of you who have contributed your comments and advice on my dry food dilemma.

Here's what I'm doing right now:

  1. Ordered Some Orijen: Thanks so much to the anonymous commenter who turned me on to, a small etailer who sells Orijen cat food online. I just ordered a 5.5 pound bag for my boys to try. With UPS shipping, my order came to $25.

    No doubt, this is a calculated risk. I've never heard of only4pets before so I don't know how quick and reliable they are, but I was able to pay using PayPal, something I prefer over giving my credit card information directly to an unknown site.

    I also don't know if the boys will like Orijen, but I'm eager to feed it to them. As we all know, sometimes cats don't like to eat foods we know they should eat. A couple of years ago, I tried feeding them Evo dry and they wouldn't touch it, even though Evo is grain-free and 52% protein!

  2. Buying Another Dry: I'm sure the Orijen I ordered won't arrive for a few days and I'm almost out of kibble. I'm going to go to the pet store this weekend and get another dry, most likely either Natual Balance or California Natural.

    Amy, a commenter on my original post, changed my mind about buying California Natural, Innova, and other products made by Natura by letting me know that Natura is dropping Menu Foods. I applaud Natura's effort here and would like to encourage other manufacturers to do the same. I think this actually deserves its own post.

    Any thoughts on California Natural Chicken and Brown Rice?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Vet's Estimate: 39,000 Pets Sickened or Killed

I found this little tidbit via Howl911, the best source for food recall news these days. The Associated Press reports that a major pet hospital chain estimates the number of dogs and cats poisioned is 39,000:
Banfield, The Pet Hospital, said an analysis of its database, compiled from records collected by its more than 615 veterinary hospitals, suggests that three out of every 10,000 cats and dogs that ate the pet food contaminated with melamine developed kidney failure. There are an estimated 60 million dogs and 70 million cats in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

A vet is later quoted saying that this is actually a small percentage.

"On a percentage basis it's not breathtaking, but unfortunately it's a number that, if it was your pet that was affected, it's too high," veterinarian Nancy Zimmerman, Banfield's senior medical adviser, said of the newly estimated incidence rate.

Imagine if 39,000 people all got sick (and thousands of them died) from poisoned food. How do you think that would play?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Finding New Cat Food is Hard to Do

A couple of weeks ago, I resolved to not only get my boys off of any food that is manufactured by Menu Foods (already done), but to stop buying food that is manufactured by companies which do business with Menu Foods in any way, shape, or form. I don't want one penny of my money going to support Menu Foods as it tortures laboratory animals while peddling poison to pet parents.

In an ideal world, we'd all stop buying from companies that use Menu Foods and this morally bankrupt company would become financially bankrupt as well. In the real world, 99% of the companies we want to buy food from do some kind of business with Menu Foods. Just check out the list of companies that use Menu Foods (or won't tell you whether they do) at

I told you a couple of weeks ago, that Wellness wrote back to me and said that Menu Foods is "one of the best." Their opinion is clearly shared by dozens of other companies.

After getting that unrepentant response from Wellness, I resolved to stop feeding my boys their dry food (they never liked the Wellness wet), even though their dry is great nutritionally and is not made by Menu Foods. I figured that there must be another dry food that is at least as good for the boys but is made by a company that does no business with Menu Foods. It hasn't been easy and, as my current bag of Wellness kibble nears its bottom, I haven't found an alternative brand.

I've been reading and perusing my options. I don't have many, unless I want my boys' health to take a backseat to my principles. According to the Pet List, all of these great brands -- Wellness, Innova, California Natural, Wysong, and Nature's Variety -- are all made by companies which do business with Menu Foods, even though the dry foods themselves are not made by Menu.

Right now, I have a couple of canned foods I can feed -- Solid Gold and Merrick -- which don't do any business with Menu Foods, but I need a new kibble provider. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned Orijen on this blog, but it isn't even available here in New York state or online.

I also want to avoid any brand that contains menadione, otherwise known as Vitamin K3, because there is some contraversy surrounding it.

So here are the choices I've identified so far. I could use your advice:

  • Natural Balance: I'm considering either their Ultra-Premium Dry or their Venison and Green Pea (which is grain-free). The Natural Balance Company does no business with Menu Foods, but its dry food is packed at a Diamond foods plant. You'll recall that Diamond foods is the company which had an aflatoxin outbreak just last year.

  • Timberwolf Organics Serengeti Herbal Felid Diet: This sounds really good on paper to me, but I don't know much about the company and it's unclear whether they do business with Menu Foods or not. I've sent them a note inquiring.

  • Felidae Cat and Kitten Dry: The protein percentage (32%) is 4% lower than I get with Wellness right now. However, they don't do business with Menu Foods and I don't see Vitamin K3 or menadione on their list of ingredients.

What am I missing here? Which should I choose?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Anyone Heard of Orijen Cat Food?

I was looking at the very long list of fancy cat foods that use Menu Foods and the very small number that don't use Menu Foods.

On the list, I saw a new, rare brand called Orijen. This stuff sounds really good. It's 45% crude protein! I'd have to special order it since it's not even available in New York State yet.

What do you think?

FDA: It's Melamine; New York: Not so Fast

So the big news on Friday was that the FDA now says that it has detected melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, in the contaminated food. Unfortunately, the FDA and New York State Food Laboratory disagree, because the FDA says it did not detect any aminopterin.

According to the same AP story, New York officials are sticking by their guns:

New York officials stuck to their aminopterin finding and pointed out that it was unlikely that melamine could have poisoned any of the animals thought to have died after eating the contaminated pet food. Melamine is used to make plastic kitchen ware and is used as a fertilizer in Asia.

An FDA official allowed that it wasn't immediately clear whether the melamine was the culprit.

So which foreign substance is killing thousands of cats and dogs? Could it be a combination of both? And in practical terms, does it make you feel any better about Menu Foods, knowing that both a rat poison and a plastics chemical have been found in their food?

I guess this news doesn't bother the dozens of pet food companies who continue to use Menu Foods as their manufacturer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Boys Ok. Now Who Gets the Bill?

The vet called back this morning to say the boys' blood tests came back ok. They have a clean bill of health, but Arthur's cholesterol was 2 points above normal, though the vet says it's nothing to worry about. Is there anything I should be doing to lower it?

Oh, and who gets the $414 bill for this testing? I think either Nutro or Menu Foods should have to pay for this. We wouldn't have taken them for testing if they hadn't been eating Nutro Natural Choice packets for years. It's their fault. They should pay. Who should I be trying to collect from?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

FDA Massively Undercounting Deaths

Itchmo Seattle has a great article on the undercount of pet deaths from Menu Foods toxin. The official count is 16 deaths, but we actually know that the count is in the thousands. Why is the official count so low? Itchmo explains

“The FDA has provided the following case definition for field investigation/cases: veterinary documented renal failure, necropsy results if animal died, food consumed within 1 week of death (illness), and intact, unopened cans of the food.”

This gives us a hint as to the standard for associating a death with the recall. It requires a practically dispute-proof set of facts – a responsibility for the court of law, not the agency whose duty is to protect us – and gives us an insight into why they are still quoting the party line of 16 deaths. (Remember that Iraqi minister during the war who insisted to the media that Iraq was winning while US tanks were rolling into Baghdad? Yeah, this sounds totally different.)

So imagine that your pet has just died of renal failure after you fed him a packet of Menu Foods toxic brew. In order to get on the FDA's list you need to have:

  • A Document from Your Vet

  • A necropsy (pet autopsy) performed to prove the cause of death. This is an expensive procedure and probably gutwretching for the pet parent who just wants to bury or cremate her pet and grieve. Why on earth would you pay hundreds of dollars for a necropsy so you can help the FDA increase its stats?

  • Unopened cans of the toxic food lying around the house (but what if you had already tossed them or returned them b/c they had been recalled OR what if the can you fed was your last one?)

  • Some way of proving your pet consumed the food within a week of getting sick.

You can see why it's impossible to add to the FDA's list. Frankly, I'm not even sure how they got those 16 deaths on their tally. Maybe those are all laboratory animals.

Anyway, here are some numbers:

Pet Connection is asking for reports and has received nearly 2,000 reports of pet illness or death. Of course, this is only from people who know about their survey so it's neither here nor there.

Today, the Veterinarians Information Network, an online community of 30,000 vets, claims to have received 471 reports. However, we simply don't know how many vets logged in and reported every case to them.

So how many pets are affected? A lot more than 16!

More Dirty Secrets Revealed

If a company claims that their food is "unaffected" by the recall and that they don't test on animals, but they use Menu Foods to make some of their products, does that mean that they belong on PETA's "do not test" list?

I'm looking right now Petsitusa's up-to-date list of companies and where their foods come from. There are even more companies that use Menu Foods on here than I ever imagined. What is really disturbing is that some of these companies appear on the "do not test" list even though they do business with a Menu Foods, a company with a reputation for vicious animal testing. Maybe PETA isn't really taking that hard a look at these companies.

For example, both Wysong and Nature's Variety appear on the PETA list, but they also both appear on the list of companies that use Menu Foods to make canned food for them. Is it ok not to test on animals yourself if you do business with a manufacturer that tests?

I feel particularly duped by Wysong. I bought some Wysong Au Jus this past weekend b/c I was under the belief that Wysong didn't use Menu Foods. In fact, according to Petsitusa, the Au Jus is made by Menu Foods. In the garbage it goes! Apparently, you just can't win. It seems like, with a handful of exceptions (Merrick and Blue Buffalo come to mind), everybody uses Menu Foods for something.

Does the pet food industry have no shame?

Vet Visit: Mostly a Success

Liz took the boys to the vet today at 4. The vet looked at the boys, said they look very healthy, and took blood for a blood test. We'll get results tomorrow afternoon, but he seemed to think that we should expect that everything will be fine.

That said, the vet we saw was not the same guy we've always seen and he seemed to think that the boys need to lose weight, even though the previous vet thought they were a fine weight. At today's checkup, the boys weighed about 14.2 pounds each. At January's annual checkup they weighed 15 pounds and our regular vet said 15 pounds is fine for them as long they don't get heavier. It seems that they've lost weight. Should I be trying to get them to lose more? They don't look fat to me.

That said, I think the boys will lose weight now that they aren't eating Nutro packet food anymore. I think it had some fattening ingredients that they could do without. I also think we need to play da bird with them more often. However, they're not exactly lazy. They chase each other around and wrestle several times a day.

Anyway, we await the blood test results with hope but just a little nervousness.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Partial List of Non-Recalled Foods has a list of pet food companies whose foods have not been recalled. For some companies, they list whether Menu Foods makes some of their products. However, they don't list it for all companies and we can't guarantee the accuracy of this list.

Blue Buffalo: We Don't Do Business With Menu Foods

Yesterday, I noticed that Blue Buffalo had the following ambiguous message on their Web site:

We want to inform all of our friends that BLUE products are NOT part of the national pet food recall.

The message reassures us that their food is not being recalled, but it doesn't say whether they do business with Menu Foods.

I wrote a note to Blue Buffalo, asking them if they use Menu Foods and they wrote me back today with the following response:

Dear Avram,

Thank you for taking the time out to write us. And thank you for your
interest in BLUE. BLUE products have never been produced by Menu Foods
and we are not affiliated with them in any way. In addition, all of our
formulas are gluten free and we do not use wheat in any of our products

Great news! I wrote them back to advise them that they'd help better their own reputation if they simply came out and stated as much on the home page of their Web site.

Companies should be proud to NOT be associated with Menu Foods. Of course, what we still don't know -- and should probably ask -- is what company makes their food and whether that company does animal testing, but until I know otherwise, I give Blue the benefit of the doubt and many kudos for not doing business with scumbags like Menu Foods.

Send Luck, Thoughts, Prayers

After much procrastination, Liz and I decided on Saturday that we want to take the boys to our vet for testing. Out appointment is for Tuesday at 4 pm ET. Liz is taking the boys while I'm at work.

Arthur and Beowulf have shown no symptoms at all of being poisoned, but my friend Janet Tobiassen DVM,'s Guide to Veterinary medicine, left me the a comment I could not ignore:

A simple blood and urine test will yield a lot of information and a hopefully a huge piece of mind! Veterinary experts are now saying that while the initial focus was on acute kidney damage/failure, they are now expecting that there are animals that may experience subclinical chronic failure. Once signs are seen (weight loss, drinking and urinating frequently, etc.) is very difficult to reverse.

Anyway, I think we waited so long because

  • We had called the same vet the week before and he said not to bother bringing them in unless they showed symptoms. This time, we insisted.

  • Taking the boys to the vet is very traumatic for them and for us. The very act of leaving the house freaks them out.

  • I'm actually terrified that somehow they'll break out of their carriers, run down the streets of Manhattan, and never be seen again.

  • Of course, we're also worried that something negative will come up on the test, but I'm hopeful b/c I've seen no reason to believe they are sick. But what if it turns out that they have some other disease we didn't know about.

So please send good wishes. I didn't want to take them for testing, but after reading some of your comments, we're going to take them.

Oh, and if they make it back ok, I'm going to send the bill for the testing either to Menu Foods or to Nutro Products. It's their fault I need to have the boys tested. Which one should I send it to? Menu Foods made the poisoned product, but Nutro sold it. Who's going to take responsibility?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Powerful Words: "Not Affected" versus "Not Associated"

Like many pet parents, I want nothing to do with Menu Foods. It's not enough to feed my boys products that weren't recalled or products that weren't produced by Menu Foods. I don't want to support a company that supports Menu Foods.

Over the past several days, I've been scouring the Web, looking for cat food companies that don't do business with Menu Foods. It's not always easy to find out which companies do business with Menu Foods and which companies don't. As a professional wordsmith, I have a tendency to read into the language that people or companies use when they communicate.

Let's look at two pet food company Web sites and how they describe their lack of involvement in the recall. Our first example comes from Old Mother Hubbard's Wellness site, which as of this writing, reads:
Wellness and Old Mother Hubbard products are NOT affected by the recent Menu Foods product recall.

If you click-through to a longer explanation, OMH uses the term "not involved," but they never say that they do with Menu Foods on their site. That said, in an email to me, an OMH rep confirmed that they use Menu Foods and they're proud of it.

Now, let's look at the home page for Natural Balance Foods:

NO Natural Balance® products are producedby ANY company associated
with the Pet Food Recall.

That's a pretty clear statement that Natural Balance Foods does not do business with Menu Foods. I see this statement from Natural Balance about not working with Menu Foods and also their message about animal testing and I want to buy their products:

Natural Balance® was built on the premise of helping animals, and we have never nor would we ever allow any testing that would be considered harmful to an animal. We do not conduct laboratory testing on animals, whatsoever. All of our feeding trials are conducted in the animal's own environment, in conjunction with veterinarians, kennels, breeders and pet owners, to ensure that all Natural Balance® products are extremely palatable, nutritious and the best possible formulation for the health of your pet. Our feeding trials are a positive experience and enjoyable for animals!
I think we have to appreciate that level of honesty and full disclosure from a company like Natural Balance. And I'll also give Old Mother Hubbard, the maker's of Wellness, some credit for owning up to their relationship with Menu Foods. I'll never buy their products again, but at least they were honest with me when I asked them about it.

As of this writing, I have emails out to a couple of pet food companies whose products I use or would like to use, asking them about whether they do business with Menu Foods or not. One of these is Blue Buffalo, makes of Spa Selects, whose Web site, as of this writing, ambiguously states:
We want to inform all of our friends that BLUE products are NOT part of the national pet food recall.

Ok, but are they made by Menu Foods or not?

The lesson of this recall is that pet parents need to know more than that to feel good about buying pet food. We need to know whether our money is helping Menu Foods. At least this consumer does.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wellness Rep: Menu Foods is "One of the Best"

A few days ago, I wrote a note to Old Mother Hubbard, the makers of Wellness Cat Food, to ask them why they would use a company like Menu Foods to make their products. Here was their rep's response in its entirety from Wednesday (I didn't notice it amongst my mail until today):

Dear Avram,

We are aware that Menu Foods has initiated a recall. No products made by Wellness & Old Mother Hubbard are affected in any way.

Again, no Wellness, Old Mother Hubbard, or Neura products are part of this recall.

Menu does make some of our foods, although they do not make any of our dry foods.

There are two very important factors in determining the quality of a food. The first is the manufacturer. In this case, Menu Foods is a top notch manufacturer that receives excellent scores for food safety and quality systems. They make a consistent product which is exactly what the company asks for. Frankly, they make product for so many companies because they are one of the best..

The second factor is formula. Ingredient selection can make or break product quality. Certain ingredients can be allergens to certain pets. Other ingredients can be sourced for either their quality or their price. Chicken ingredients, for example, can be sourced at various prices. Low ash chicken, which is better for a cat, can be sourced at a higher price. Those are the types of ingredients we use, because they are of higher quality. So I would not assume all companies are created equal. If you'd like to learn more, please call us. We have much more information where that came from!

(emphasis is mine)

I appreciate OMH's candor here. They clearly chose Menu Foods for a reason and they have no regrets. While I believe their food is high-quality stuff, I'm deeply troubled by their continued support of a company which conducts deadly animal tests, produces poisoned food, and then sits on information which could have saved lives in an attempt to save face.

I'm also concerned by OMH's position on animal testing. Here is an explanatino of the animal testing policy from the OMH Official FAQ:

Q: Why are you not on PETA's "Do Not Test List"?

A: In order to be placed on PETA's "Do Not Test List", we would be required to sign a contract that states that we approve of everything that PETA does and that we cannot alter or change our formulas without informing them first. While we have great admiration and respect for PETA's agenda, upon legal consultation, we were advised that it was not in our company's best interest to sign their contract.

I'm going to try to contact PETA and ask about their requirements for getting on the "Do Not Test List," but on the face of it, this just doesn't sound right to me. If you look at the PETA list, there are plenty of products on it. Are they all running their formulas by PETA on a regular basis?

Is Old Mother Hubbard actively doing bad things to animals? We don't know. Here's what they say in the FAQ:
Q: Why can't you give me the information on the animals that you use to test the food? Are they kept in cages? What about the kennel? Can I contact them?

A: The animals that are used are privately owned and kept in kennels for a period of 4 days for the feeding trials to see how they like our food. For any further information you would need to contact AAFCO.

Let's assume for a second that the privately-owned kennel, which we know nothing about, is incredibly humane. The fact is that Old Mother Hubbard does business with Menu Foods and, as a business partner, is helping Menu Foods stay in business. Menu Foods has a track record of killing dogs and cats, whether through inaction or animal testing.

I am sorry to have to do this, but I think I'm going to have to switch brands. I can't have my money supporting Menu Foods.

Why We Care

I try to keep politics out of this blog, but I will admit to being staunchly pro-cat in all things. If hear about a cat suffering, I'm concerned. If I read about someone who commits an act of animal cruelty against a cat, I get angry and think there should be tougher laws. If I hear about a food company that does animal testing on cats and then sells poisoned cat food, my blood really boils.

If a cat and a dog are duking it out, I'll always side with the cat. If a cat does something bad, I'll make excuses for him. I hate the movie Cats & Dogs because the cats are villains.

Why am I pro-cat? I don't consider myself a softie or a bleeding heart, but look at the picture below and tell me why I shouldn't be staunchly pro-cat?

This, BTW, is a terrible picture of me, but a great picture of Arthur. Why do I always look scraggly in these pictures? Because these moments tend to happen when I've been sitting around on the couch late at night or on a weekend.

Nutro Excuses

I visited the Nutro Products site again today and noticed that they have finally put up a decent amount of information about what is going on. It's a shame they didn't put this information up on last Friday night when the news was announced.

Anyway, I found a couple of interesting tidbits in Nutro's Recall FAQ. First, they attempt to answer the question of why they use Menu Foods as a manufacturer in the first place:
Why does Nutro use Menu Foods as a contract manufacturer for production of wet foods?

Canned and foil pouch wet foods are a small part of Nutro's overall production. Our limited volume does not allow Nutro (and a great many other pet food companies), the economy of scale required to own a wet food facility.

We use a contract manufacturer because they provide wet food production capacity and expertise. Contract manufacturers are required to follow strict quality standards in the production of Nutro's wet products. Nutro is implementing additional guidelines that will ensure that the quality control measures used by our co-manufacturers and their suppliers are strengthened so that this deeply troubling situation never happens again.

In another section of the FAQ, Nutro mentions that all of its dry food is self-manufactured. I'm sorry Nutro, but your "economy of scale" story just doesn't make a lot of sense.

How is it that a company like Merrick Petcare can manufacture all of its own canned food, but you can't? Merrick is on a lot of store shelves, but they're more of a boutique brand than Nutro. Nutro cans and packerts sit on the shelves at Petco and Petsmart, the two largest national chains. It's hard to believe that you can't make your own wet food.

Here's another one of the FAQs that caught my eye:

Does that mean that all pet foods contract manufactured by Menu Foods are essentially the same, just branded under different labels?

No. As a contract manufacturer for Nutro, Menu Foods creates Nutro brand products according to our own proprietary recipes using our specified ingredients. These formulas are made exclusively for Nutro. Our recipes and ingredient profiles are the result of years of research and development, and meet the highest quality standards for nutrition and taste. Our foods are different!

If their foods really are different, then why did they end up with the same gluten as everyone else? If the process is so hands-on for Nutro then they should have been paying closer attention to what Menu Foods was doing.

I'm sorry, but Nutro sold the contaminated food under their label, and they are responsible for it. Frankly, I also feel responsible for feeding their product to my boys and for recommending it to so many people. I won't make that mistake again.

Investors to Menu Foods: Keep That Poison Coming!

You'd think that a food company which has been found with poison in its factory would be in some financial trouble. You'd imagine that, if said company were publicly traded, investors would run away screaming on the day that investigators annouunced that rat poison had been found in its products.

Well, think again, because Menu Food's stock price rose by 30.8 percent on the "good news" that rat poison was found.

This means that somewhere large institutional investors were sitting around their computer terminals reading stories about aminopterin, about class action lawsuits being filed against Menu Foods, and about the company promising to pay veterinary costs for thousands for people. The investors' response: buy, buy, buy!

I'll never understand Wall St. I guess the going theory is that, because a toxic agent has been identified, the company's troubles are over and it's a good time to buy. Nevermind that every dollar you invest is seen as a vote of confidence and a ringing endorsement of company policy. Nevermind that by investing in Menu Foods, you are asking for more of the same.

Menu Foods CEO: I Feel Your Pain

I can't tell you how glad I was to hear these words coming from Menu Foods CEO Paul Henderson:
"Over the past seven days we have spoken with almost 200,000 consumers. They are scared. Some, like myself, were angry. They demonstrated a level of care and concern that only those of us who are pet owners can understand."

(via and the Canadian Press)
And don't worry folks. Menu Foods will also pay your vet bills.

I understand that vet bills can get expensive, but somehow I doubt that this lame attempt at contrition coupled with a vague offer to reimburse expenses is going to cut it with pet parents.

You know what Paul? Since you've shared your pain with us, I feel like I can ask you anything and you'll just open up and share. So tell me:

Who are you angry at?

Are you angry at all the pet parents who complained that your food was making them sick for weeks, possibly as far back as December?

Are you angry at all the consumers who've joined class action litigation against you in Canada, Wisconsin, Washington, and elsewhere.

Are you angry at the laboratory test animals who, rather than simply dying from your poison, should have jumped out of their cages and howled "this tastes like aminopterin?" Maybe they even would have, if they had vocal chords.

Are you angry at the media for revealing the pet food industry's dirty little secret, that so many "trustworthy" brands use a careless, cruel, safety-indifferent company to make their wet food products?

Or are you angry at yourself? Somehow, I doubt it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pet Recall: It was Rat Poison (or Was It?)

By now, you've probably all read the news. Researchers have determined that the affected foods contain a large amount of aminopterin, a drug which is used as a rat poison in China and, at one time, was used to treat leukemia or induce abortions. Bottom line: it's a big-time poison.

At this point, nobody knows for sure where the aminopterin came from and whether it is the only cause of the poisonings.

ABC News reports that the aminopterin might have come from Chinese wheat:

Investigators, meanwhile, are looking into whether the rat poison came into the United States on an ingredient used in the recalled food. ABC News has learned that Menu Foods bought wheat gluten, the only ingredient changed in its plants, from China.

However, the AP (via CNN) quotes two experts who cast doubt on wheat as the source of the aminopterin.

The first, an expert in pest management, doubts that rodenticide could end up in wheat:

Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said it would be unusual for the wheat to be tainted.

"It would make no sense to spray a crop itself with rodenticide," Rosenberg said, adding that grain shippers typically put bait stations around the perimeter of their storage facilities.

Andre Rosowsky, an expert in aminopterin, tells the AP that the food may have been deliberately tampered with:

Rosowsky speculated that the substance would not show up in pet food "unless somebody put it there."

According to the AP, Menu Foods says their products could not have been tampered with because the poison showed up in foods made at two separate plants. I think that really depends on your definition of "tamper." Perhaps poison ended up in the wheat because someone tampered with the wheat back in China or at some point before it reached the food plants.

Before we start looking for a culprit, another problem remains. We don't really know whether aminopterin is the cause or even a cause of the poisonings. ABC News quotes some skeptical vets:

"Renal failure is not the expected response to these drugs," said Susan Weinstein, executive director of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association. She added that most rodent poisons work as severe anticoagulants — meaning they cause the rats that ingest them to bleed to death.

"Whether this particular toxin in this case can create renal failure depends on how this drug works in the body, which may be an entirely different pathway than the anticoagulants," Weinstein said. "Because we aren't yet familiar with this toxin, we can't be confident of the causation link."

Honestly, I hope this is the cause, because otherwise we're back to square one and the poisonings will continue.

According to both the AP and ABC News, Menu Foods continues to manufacture food in both of the affected plants. I guess they couldn't lose a day's profit or a night's sleep over this. For Menu Foods, the grinders of the giant pet food machine have to keep spinning, no matter what the cost in lives.

Support from Arthur

The past couple of months have been some of the most stressful I've ever had. First I spent a ton of energy searching for, finding, and procuring a new job. Now, I'm working 10-12 hour days, then coming home and working on my home computer until 1 am. I don't even get to go to the gym much anymore.

But, through everything, my boys stick by me, even if they're just sitting on my desk and watching me work on the computer. It means a lot to me that I turn my head and see one or both of them lying in the bed right next to my keyboard and encouraging me while I work.

Here's a picture of Arthur:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Gauging My Vet's Advice

Ever since I heard the news about the product recall on Friday night, I have been worried that Arthur and Beowulf will become ill. As I mentioned, I fed them Nutro Natural Choice packet food on a regular basis.

That last time they ate Nutro was last Thursday or Wednesday. They have shown no signs of being ill in any way. However, if all Nutro was contaminated for months (perhaps as far back as December), then they were eating contaminated food for months.

My fiancee Liz called our vet on Tuesday and asked if we should take them in for tests. The vet told her not to bother bringing the boys in for a checkup unless they started to show symptoms. They seem fine. OTOH, do you think this food could have long-term negative effects?

Most sources I've read claim that if your pet is ill, he will become ill within a very short period of time after eating the contaminated food. But just now I read an article on where a leading vet said something a little different.

According to ABC, veterinarian Cathy Langston, of New York's Animal Medical Center said "I'm worried that there are more deaths to come from chronic renal failure over the next several months. It's not over."

Is it "not over" because people with this contaminated food in their pantries will continue feeding it and unknowingly poisoning their pets or because people like me will get an unpleasant surprise several months from now?

I also consulted an online friend who is a vet and told me that I should go with my vet's advice. What do you all think? Am I reading too much into the ABC News quote?

Ditching Wellness (or Maybe Not)?

The other day, I was patting myself on the back for feeding the boys Wellness dry. Then I find out that Wellness food is made by Menu Foods. To be fair:

  • No Wellness food is subject to the recall

  • Menu Foods does not make dry food and I only feed the dry Wellness. I use other brands for wet food.

  • I have no idea who really manufactures the Wellness dry food. Maybe they use a reputable manufacturer for their dry products.

That said. I'm really disillusioned with the whole Wellness brand after reading that they Wellness uses Menu Foods as a manufacturer. I sent an email to Old Mother Hubbard, makers of the Wellness brand, a few days ago and have received no response. I asked them to explain why they would use a disreputable vendor like Menu Foods, but I received no response.

So now I'm thinking I should switch dry foods. Let's assume for a second that Wellness dry food is a high-quality product with good nutritional properties and my boys love to eat it. However, I feel like I may need to switch brands of dry b/c:

  • How Can I Trust Them?: If Menu Foods makes Wellness's wet food, how do I know that they use a reliable, trustworthy manufacturer for their kibble? If they would use a careless, greedy, safety-unconscious company like Menu Foods to manufacture some of their products, how can I trust that something similar won't happen to their dry food in the future?

  • How Can I Support Them?: Every dollar I give to Wellness is being used to help prop up Menu Foods, a company which callously disregards or deliberately destroys the lives of cats and dogs. Remember, that they probably knew enough to recall the poisoned pet food months ago and that they have a horrible reputation for torturing laboratory animals.

So should I ditch Wellness out of concern, out of principle, or both? If I ditch Wellness, would can I switch to that would be as good for the boys and would taste and smell the most like Wellness? And if I did switch, how would I know that the brand I switched to was not just as irresponsible? I can now find a list of which brands use Menu Foods as a manufacturer and which don't, but that doesn't tell me if the companies are any more humane or cautious in their manufacturing processes.

What do you think?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Canadian Press: Complaints Started in December

According to the Canadian Press (via howl911 and Pet Connection ), Menu Foods started receiving complaints as far back as December:

Starting in December, concerns began filtering back to the company through toll-free customer lines about the "cuts and gravy" style pet food.

Callers complained their animals had fallen ill after eating the food, although no direct link was established.

Of course, AP reports say the company told the FDA that complaints started on February 20th. So the question is this: how long as Menu Foods known it was peddling poison? Was it a month or three months? Either way, they sat on that knowledge for a long time.

Menu Foods: We Knew About this for a Month

The scumbags at Menu Foods continue to show us why there's a special place reserved in hell for them. Today, the AP reported (via Toronto Star):

Menu Foods told the FDA it received the first complaints of kidney failure and deaths among cats and dogs from pet owners on Feb. 20. It began new tests on Feb. 27.

During those tests, the company fed its product to 40 to 50 dogs and cats and some seven animals – the mix of species was not immediately known – died, Sundlof said. The contamination appeared more deadly to cats than to dogs, he said.

So they knew about this for a month, they took their time acting on the recall, and even better, they tested the poisonous food on dogs and cats in a laboratory, just to see how many would die! As I said yesterday, Menu Foods has a well-established reputation for animal cruelty.

Some of you may not like PETA and I don't agree with everything they do, but I believe their report on Menu Foods and its animal test labs. Apparently PETA had an undercover investigator working in the labs for 9 months. During that time, she witnessed countless acts of cruelty. I'm particularly disturbed by this graph:

A cat used in a Menu Foods study whom PETA’s investigator had befriended had a large cut on his chin. The vet techs told our investigator that this unfortunate cat was “evil,” and instead of treating the cat humanely, they put betadine in a spray bottle and tried to spray the cat in the face from outside the cage, squirting him in the mouth and causing him to salivate profusely. Later, the technicians indicated that the “problem was resolved,” yet the investigator saw that the cut looked much worse and informed the lab’s director of the cat’s condition. Although the vet techs were told to euthanize the cat immediately, he suffered for five more days before the vet techs finally got around to destroying him.

But I think this was the piece de resistance:

Shortly before our investigator quit her job at the lab, the lab director ordered the vet techs to debark all the dogs because he was being disturbed by their desperate cries for attention. A vet tech told our investigator that a researcher in Menu Foods’ New Jersey office gave permission for the dogs’ vocal chords to be cut out.

So it's great to know that their response to finding out that their food was poisoning cats and dogs was to feed the same poisonous food to the animals locked in their lab of horrors.

Why did Menu Foods wait so long to issue it's recall and why did it issue the recall on a Friday night? I think the answer is contained in its press release:

The Fund estimates that based on currently available information, this recall could cost between $30 million and $40 million, which will be financed from a combination of internally generated cash flow and bank credit facilities.

I wonder how many animal's lives that $40 million is worth to "The Fund?" I used to work for a public company where we'd always put out negative news like poor earning reports on Friday nights so that the market had time to "digest" it. Maybe Menu Foods was hoping that by throwing this information out there on a Friday night, it would have more time to reassure nervous investors before markets reopened on Monday morning. Indeed, Menu Foods' stock dropped today by 24% on Monday. How much might it have dropped if this recall was announced at the opening bell or even at 2 pm on Friday?

Nevermind, that every hour Menu Foods delayed releasing this news, someone was feeding a cat a packet of contaminated food. Stores were selling poison in a packet and nobody was the wiser. Then, after releasing the information Friday Night, Menu foods waited until 6 am on Saturday morning to post its list of recalled products. But even then, the list was incomplete. Even more brands were added later on. But of course when you secretly manufacture as many brands of food as "The Fund," it's easy to lose track of exactly where you slung your slop.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nutro: Same as a Supermarket Brand?

I've been holding my virtual tongue since I read yesterday that Nutro, makers of Nutro Max and Nutro Natural Choice cat foods, is on the list of brands being recalled by Menu Foods. I can't hold back anymore.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock this weekend, you know that there's a major recall of wet cat and dog foods manufactured by the Menu Foods Inc.

Haven't heard of Menu Foods? That's because they are the not-so-secret manufacturers of North America's lowest-quality pet foods, including over a dozen supermarket housebrands. Until Friday, I'd never heard of them. A quick search for the Menu Foods name reveals that they are infamous among animal rights groups, because of their penchant for cruel animal testing.

Like many of you who read this blog, I think of myself as an obsessive pet parent. I try to feed my boys the highest-quality food that money can buy. I feed the boys Wellness Super5 Mix dry food and a mix of wet foods. Unfortunately, Nutro Natural Choice pouches have been a big part of that mix.

So far the boys have been ok and we have gotten rid of our Nutro pouches, but I'm still worried that symptoms may appear later on or that there may be long-term effects. Nobody really knows what was wrong with the food and I last fed them Nutro on Thursday.

I know that Nutro isn't as good a brand as something like Wellness or Wysong and I know that gravy pouches aren't as good as canned fare, but I fed the boys Nutro Natural Choice Turkey and Giblets, because it was one of the few wet foods they would eat. I thought to myself, "ok, this stuff is not as good as the $1.50 a can stuff, but it is a quality brand and it's the best brand you can get at chain stores like Petco and Petsmart." Boy was I wrong about the "quality" part.

Until this recall, Nutro never mentioned on their site or on their product packaging that their food is actually being churned out in the same factory as world-renowned cat foods like "Price Chopper Housebrand" and "Save-A-Lot." The home page of their site says:

For over 75 years, Nutro has created, tested, and produced the finest pet foods on the market. Our philosophy is simple: we constantly strive to provide better ingredients and better nutrition for better health, no matter what the cost.

Are they really providing "better ingredients" than Price Chopper or Save-a-Lot? The news is sketchy right now and we don't know for sure whether all the brands manufactured in that plant use the same ingredients. The AP (via CNN) reports that "the recalled products were made using wheat gluten purchased from a new supplier." To me that says one simple thing: Nutro products were made using the same gluten as cheap, low-quality cat foods. If they are using the same gluten as Foodtown supermarket's cat food, how many other ingredients do they have in common?

Is Nutro just putting a fancy package and snazzy name on the same low-grade cat food you get off the supermarket shelf? I've been feeding my boys Nutro products since they were kittens. The entire first year of their lives, Arthur and Beowulf had Nutro Natural Choice dry food every single day. I've been feeding them Nutro canned foods and pouches. Was I actually feeding them slop the whole time?

For those of you who aren't cat food snobs, I submit this analogous question. How would you feel if you were concerned about car safety so you bought a $40,000 Volvo and then years later found out it was manufactured in the same plant, using at least some of the same parts as a Yugo?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Big Changes

I'll make this quick, because I really need to relax like Arthur is doing in the picture below. The past month has been really hectic, because I went through a series of interviews and then made the difficult decision to leave my job of nine years at and pursue another exciting opportunity.

The boys have been really helpful through all of this. When I was sitting in front of my computer doing extensive preparations before my interview or stressing about my new job, the boys would come sit next to the keyboard and purr for me. I just came home from day two of the new job and I have a lot to learn, but a lot of exciting work ahead of me. When I get home at night and want to relax after a long day, I always turn to the boys.