Animals & Money: Did you file your pet food recall claim yet?

Was your dog one of the many around the country that ate the tainted pet food last year? You've got until November 24 to file a claim. According to USAToday, only 6,000 pet owners have filed so far, though many times that had dogs that potentially ate the food and got sick. We still don't know how many animals died from the poisoning.

Today (September 12th) is the last day you can file an objection to the $24 million settlement, an amount that upset many dog parents as being far too small.

As you'll recall dogs started getting sick from Menu Food products in February, 2007 and eventually the crisis engulfed 90 pet food brands. After weeks scientists figured out that Chinese manufacturers were substituting the plastic ingredient melamine to boost protein readings.

The settlement money is for "documented, reasonable economic damages" the settlement document says -- for anyone who bought the food. In other words, they're treating pets like just things and not acknowledging how much they hurt both animals and people. The settlement specifically includes "veterinary treatment costs, death-related expenses, deceased pet purchase price or fair market value, whichever is higher, or new pet cost, property damages and other economic costs." They'll give $900 for a claim without documentation.Let's consider this under the willingness-to-pay economic theory, which basically asks you how much would you be willing to pay to avoid some bad thing happening to you. That's how much in theory the thing is worth. The figure is impossible to quantify whenever human or even animal life is involved. But obviously $900 falls far short.

My dog didn't get sick, but he ate two of the brands that were recalled. My husband David and I were worried for weeks. We switched to making most of our dog food ourselves. When a dog-sitter fed him a can I'd hidden back in the cupboard, not knowing what to do with it, I flew back early from a vacation to make sure he was okay. I called my vet and he told me to just wait and see. For all that, my guess is they'd accept only the cost of the pet food. I probably would've paid more than $900 to avoid the whole thing. And certainly I would've paid that to avoid damaging my dog's liver, perhaps fatally. Other dog owners went through worse.

The settlement also has a lot of catches. Of the $24 million, only $400,000 goes to the checking of pets that turned out to be healthy and only $250,000 can go for the cost of recalled food. Menu Foods alone recalled 60 million containers of food, according to Consumer Affairs. That amounts to four cents a can. The whole $24 million settlement amount would be more than gobbled up if it just went to pay for 60 million units of Menu Foods' recalled food.

If there is extra money after all the claims, I think they should give it to the families who went through the trauma of losing a dog or cat. But this settlement adamantly excludes emotional distress. Instead, left-over money goes to animal charities.

On one hand I feel like I should file a claim so my dog gets counted among the thousands who were put at risk. The amount I'd get in the settlement is hardly worth my time in filing it.

I am tempted, however, to write in objecting to the settlement. They certainly don't make it easy for anyone to object. You have to send a letter postmarked by today, September 12, 2008, say that you have a claim relating Civil Action Number: 07-2867 (NLH), MDL No. 1850, and include your full name address, telephone number, your signature, and why you object. You have to read this document to get the instructions. Then you have to send copies to the court and one copy to each of the defense and plaintiff attorneys. They have a long list of each in the settlement document, but I just picked one of each here.

Clerk of Court
Mitchell H. Cohen Building & U.S. Courthouse
4th & Cooper Streets, Room 1050
Camden, NJ 08101

Craig Hoover
Hogan and Harston
555 Thirteenth Street
Washington DC 20004

Scott Kamber
11 Broadway, 22nd Floor
New York, NY 10004
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