FOR THE WEEK OF MAR. 26, 2007
Pet-food poisoning case outrages -- and scares -- pet owners across North America
The latest reports in the pet-food story indicate rat poison was found in the packages of tainted food. Have your students track the story through newspaper reports as it continues to develop. Who was directly affected locally? Who's to blame. What happens to the owners of affected pets?
To get an idea of how large the pet industry is, have the class search out all the pet advertising in the newspaper. What kinds of items are being advertised. How much does it cost to feed and care for a medium-sized dog based on the ads you find.
What kind of pet coverage does your newspaper present? Is there a "pet of the week" adoption feature? Pet doctor feature? What human interest stories focus on pets? What kind of regular pet coverage would the class be interested to see -- and likely to read -- on a weekly basis?
Last week's recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food sold throughout North America under 95 brand names still has dog and cat owners nationwide on edge. Animal hospitals reported being flooded with calls asking about possible symptoms related to the pet-food contamination scare.
As pet owners and grocery stores were busy clearing their shelves of canned and pouched pet foods, the first lawsuits were already being filed against the manufacturer, Menu Foods of Toronto. And more suits are sure to follow.
Animals or family members? A 2005-06 survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) indicates that three-quarters of dog owners consider their dog like a child or family member and more than half of cat owners say the same. In addition to wanting to hold the company responsible for their veterinary bills, owners who lost a pet to the tainted food will no doubt also demand the company be held accountable for the emotional cost.
What's the price of a pet? But how will courts decide what the value of a beloved pet is? According to a story in Britain's Guardian Unlimited last week: "Traditionally . . . U.S. courts do not put a high value on the death of a pet and damages could be limited to replacement value and reimbursement of medical costs." Under Tennessee law, for example, pets are considered personal property of their owners. But one provision allows an owner to recover up to $5,000 for emotional loss if the animal is killed deliberately or by negligence. But Tennessee is among only a few states with such a law.
A huge industry with an emotional connection: The total number of pets in the U.S. is estimated at 400 million. The Pet Food Institute cites surveys showing more than half of all U.S. households with at least one cat or dog--more than 60 million dogs and 80 million cats overall. And American pet owners spent an estimated $38.5 billion on their animals in 2006 -- double what we were spending 12 years ago. There are no estimates on how many pets died in Mississippi and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina but several people wouldn't leave their homes because they didn't want to leave their pets.
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