MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — More than 23,000 pet owners in the United States have asked for monetary compensation from a $24 million settlement for owners of dogs and cats who were sickened or died after eating pet food contaminated with an industrial chemical. U.S. pet owners with claims were set to start receiving checks sometime in 2009, but their payments could be held up even longer while a judge sorts out last-minute appeals to the settlement filed by four people. The legal snag pits lawyers against lawyers in a complex and emotionally fraught case. "If one of their objections succeeds, the class comes unraveled,” said Kenneth A. Wexler, a Chicago lawyer involved in working out a settlement.
About the caseThe case began in March 2007, when dogs and cats mysteriously started getting sick. It turned out that the common thread was pet food produced under nearly 200 labels — much of it by the Menu Foods Income Fund in Streetsville, Ontario, in Canada. Most of the food contained Chinese-made wheat gluten laced with melamine, an industrial chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers. Menu Foods’ other companies involved in making, distributing and selling the food agreed to pay pet owners up to $24 million in a deal approved by a judge in October. The settlement also includes Canadian pet owners, who have until Jan. 27 to file claims. While the settlement does not compensate owners for pain and suffering associated with the death or illness of their pets, it was structured to pay up to 100 percent for a variety of other costs — from vet bills to replacing carpet ruined by sick pets. Pet owners can get up to $900 for undocumented claims — for example, if they didn’t save receipts that showed they bought the pet food contaminated with melamine.