As It Happens

Dog food recalled after pet owner's pug dies

Nikki Mael thought she was rewarding her pugs with a special treat on New Year's Eve. The next thing she knew, she was rushing them to emergency.
Nikki Mael with her pugs, Tito and Tinkerbell. (Nikki Mael)

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It was supposed to be a festive treat for the four pugs — Tank, Tito, Tinkerbell and Talula.

But moments after Nikki Mael opened the can of "Hunk of Beef" dog food and fed it to her pets on New Year's Eve, she was rushing them to the emergency vet.

After they ate the dog food — within 15 minutes — they were acting drunk, they were running into the walls.- Nikki Mael, pug owner
Now the company behind "Hunk of Beef," Evangers, is issuing a voluntary recall of all cans manufactured the same week as the affected can.
Dog food manufacturer Evangers has issued a voluntary recall of its "Hunk of Beef" canned product. (Evangers)

Nikki Mael spoke with As it Happens guest host Helen Mann from Washougal, Washington. Here is part of their conversation.

Helen Mann: Ms. Mael, tell us what happened after your dogs ate this "Hunk of Beef" dog food.

Nikki Mael: After they ate the dog food — within 15 minutes — they were acting drunk, they were running into the walls and things like that. Their limbs were going limp. They weren't able to walk. Tito was having a seizure. And then I put them in the car and took them to the emergency vet. And by the time we got in there, they were just listless. They were still breathing, but they weren't responsive. 
Tinkerbell has her IVs removed.

HM: Did you immediately suspect that it might be the food?

NM: Yes. I brought the can and the [veterinary staff] were all dumbfounded. They didn't think it would be the food and so they basically just treated them for a poison and they were in ICU overnight. Talula passed away. I was able to bring Tank and Tinkerbell home. And Tito had an extra day 'cause he was having seizures. That Sunday, my friend and I and my son took Talula up to OSU [Oregon State University] and they did a necropsy on her.

I couldn't believe that something I trusted would be the death of my dog. It was the scariest thing ever.- Nikki Mael

HM: Did they do a toxicology report?

NM: They did. That found the pentobarbital, an agent used to euthanize animals at their last stages of life. It's also used on death row. It was found in Talula's stomach. It was also found in the can itself and in unopened cans.

HM: What did you think when you saw that report?

NM: I freaked out. I couldn't believe that something I trusted would be the death of my dog. It was the scariest thing ever.
Nikki Mael's pug, Talula, died after eating Evangers' "Hunk of Beef" dog food. A toxicology report showed the food contained traces of pentobarbital. (Nikki Mael)

HM: What do you know about how the pentobarbital could have made it into the dog food?

NM: They're not sure. They think that maybe [Evangers was] buying bad meat [from] euthanized animals and putting it in their food.

HM: Evangers issued a statement. They say they've cut ties with their supplier [of] 40 years. They say it was material that was approved by the U.S. agriculture department. And they say in addition to the recall, they paid your veterinary bills, made a shelter donation in Talula's name, and that they are testing other cans for pentobarbital — that they will reveal those results once they find out. What do you think of that response? Is that not to some degree satisfactory?
Talula undergoing emergency treatment. (Nikki Mael)

NM: No. If you look at their history, they've had several complaints against them. [It] should have never, ever left the factory because my dog would still be alive. The Food and Drug Administration is not done with their investigation as of yet. When they get done with their investigation, then we'll know more. I think that there needs to be regular testing on all the dog foods. They need to be going into every single dog food company, making sure everybody's in compliance. 

HM: How has this affected what you feed your remaining dogs?

NM: I don't feed them dog food at all. I'm cooking for them.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Nikki Mael.


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