HAMPTONVILLE — “This is Autumn,” said Wilma Gregory as she showed off the picture on her T-shirt and spread photographs of the dog out on the dining room table in her Hamptonville home.
Autumn, an AKC registered Shih Tzu, had to be euthanized in 2013 after Gregory said the dog suffered the effects of eating Purina dog treats “imported from or containing ingredients imported from China were defective.”
A class action lawsuit was filed claiming some of the dog treats were defective causing pets to become sick and/or die after eating them, according to a website established for pet owners who animals were affected and where they could file claims in the $6.5 million settlement case of which agreement terms were approved in court in June 2015.
“She was poisoned on the treats,” said Gregory of Autumn, who was the winner of The Tribune’s first Online Cutest Pet Contest several years ago.
“I found out it was like a drug craving. She started having accidents in the house, she got where she threw up and had rashes, and the reaction to the treats was what it was,” Gregory explained.
Between May of 2011 and Autumn’s death in 2013, Gregory paid out $3,772.36 to Animal Ark trying to treat her symptoms and save her, to no avail. “I even ran an ad in the paper thanking Dr. Brinegar and his staff after she had to be euthanized,” she said.
Symptoms, according to Autumn’s veterinarian records from Dr. Richard Brinegar, included hearing loss, skin twitching, hematuria, anorexia, pain, bronchitis, cystitis, lethargy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and even stroke.
And while Brinegar said she was very sick, he could never pinpoint a specific toxin causing the illnesses.
“She was sick for a long time,” Gregory said. “We went to get some at the store and it was recalled is how we found out. But we didn’t have any idea it was the treats making her sick.”
Brinegar said Gregory made the association between the dog treats recall and the time of Autumn’s illness since he was unable to identify a specific toxin or residual which could have been making her sick.
Gregory went online and filled out the required claims form and provided documents to back it up, including Autumn’s medical records and a signed statement from Brinegar on how much had been spent treating her over the two years she was sick. She paid $20 to have the documents overnighted to the claims personnel to be sure they got it.
The response from Purina in March of this year was a check for $27.11. “I was highly disappointed in this,” Gregory said. “They told me on the phone, ‘She was just a dog.’
“We dressed her in clothes, she would lay with you, she was even in the parade one time,” she said. “My late husband had Alzheimer’s and she laid with him and it would calm him down. When we brought him home to die, she laid under his bed and tore the rug to pieces because she knew he’d died.”
“Obviously if they sent a check, I think that is some sort of admission,” said Brinegar. “I didn’t have a specific cause, I just saw the damage done to Autumn and how she wend down hill. It was certainly a strange coincidence.”
The Elkin veterinarian said he felt bad for Gregory that all she gained in reimbursement was $27. “I love Mrs. Gregory and I feel bad for what happened. It’s a tragedy is what it is.”
Gregory said she will be cashing the check, but she also plans to send a letter to Purina “about how I feel about it.”
“When I lost her, it’s like a member of the family. She wasn’t a dog, she was family,” she said. “I think I deserve more that. It’ll never bring her back.”
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.