Two major pet supply chains will stop selling dog and cat treats made in China because, they say, they might be causing sickness and death among pets.
Lancaster County's largest retail pet supplier - That Fish Place/ That Pet Place at 237 Centerville Road - already has yanked the products from its shelves. In fact, it did so some time ago.
"We actually made that decision about two years ago," Heather Crotsley, director of marketing of the locally owned store, said.
"We only sell USA-made jerky treats for the safety of our customers' pets."
National chains PetSmart and Petco, both of which have stores in Lancaster County, announced last week that they would stop selling dog and cat treats made in China because of concerns about their safety.
Petco, which has 1,300 stores nationwide, issued its statement last Tuesday. PetSmart, which has a similar number of store locations, followed suit Wednesday.
Investigators with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration haven't been able to figure out why pets are getting ill from the treats. The agency began receiving reports of illnesses as early as 2007, according to a report by The Associated Press. The FDA said earlier this month that it had received more than 4,800 complaints of pet illnesses and more than 1,000 reports of dog deaths after pets ate Chinese-made chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats. The agency, partnered with the Centers for Disease Control, is continuing its investigation to determine a cause.
Rick Amour, chief operating officer for That Fish Place/That Pet Place, said staff there were "concerned" about the problem when they first started hearing reports.
"We just went ahead and made the decision," he said. "They really weren't sure what the problem was, so we weren't comfortable continuing to sell it.
"We held onto it for a while, just in case they figured it out," Amour added. "We just ended up disposing of the product."
At the time, China-made products made up at most 10 percent of the store's stock of pet treats, Amour said.
"We found alternate suppliers, with U.S.-made products," he said.
It took a few months to ensure all treats from China were accounted for, Crotsley said.
"But we did our best to get them all off our shelves immediately," she added.
"We want our customers' pets to be as healthy and happy as possible. We haven't had any complaints about pulling the treats - which is good, because we all want our pets to be healthy."
The issue caused quite a stir recently on the store's Twitter feed, where customers discussed reasons for the decision - and criticized both PetSmart and Petco for their delays.
In cases reported to the FDA involving jerky treats made in China, about 60 percent reported gastrointestinal or liver disease, 30 percent involved kidney or urinary disease and 10 percent included signs of other problems such as neurologic, dermatologic and immunologic symptoms, according to VetStreet.com, a resource website for pet owners. About 15 percent of the kidney or urinary cases also tested positive for Fanconi syndrome, a rare kidney disease, the report said.
"We know the FDA hasn't yet identified a direct cause for the reported illnesses, but we decided the uncertainty of the situation outweighs the lack of actual proof," Petco CEO Jim Myers said in a statement.
A manager at the local Petco, 2350 Lincoln Highway East, declined to comment on the policy change.
"We are not allowed to say anything at the store level," the man, who identified himself only as Mike, said. He referred questions to the chain's headquarters in San Diego, California.
Petco began cutting down on the number of Chinese-made treats it sold three years ago and expects to eliminate them from its shelves by the end of this year. PetSmart, found locally at 1700 Fruitville Pike, plans to have the treats off of its shelves by March 2015.
PetSmart manager Jason Large also referred questions to corporate HQ. Erin Gray, corporate communications manager in Phoenix, Arizona, said in an email that the company is not granting interviews.
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