For every pet parent, a product recall is upsetting and unsettling. A recall undermines our confidence in not just the affected product, but the supply chain and manufacturing of everything we use to care for our loved ones. For a handful of pet parents, though, a recall is personal – it’s devastating and unfortunately real. There are no words to comfort these families. Their loss is sudden, profound and the grief is not just due to the loss of a loved one but knowing that it was preventable.
I want to assure all pet parents that the entire veterinary profession grieves with you. We cannot know your pain, but this does not stop us from sharing your sorrow.
As a veterinarian, I have spent countless hours this weekend dealing with this recall and worrying about my patients. I, too, was incredibly frustrated with Hill’s release of the information. I passionately recommend Hill’s food to my clients because I believe in the product and know that the company is always guided by what is best for pets. I was frustrated with the lack of communication, the news of the recall, and the inability to reach anyone at the company. Questions were unanswered, information was vague, and emotions were running high. By Saturday night, I was truly disgusted with the entire situation and Hill’s. The Hill’s representative assigned to CCAH was trying her best but had limited information. I spoke to Hill’s veterinary professionals but could not get answers. Out of desperation, I determined how to reach out to the VP and General Manager, Jesper Nordengaard Saturday. Unbelievably, he responded to my message.
Not only did he respond to my message, he talked to me for almost an hour at midnight Saturday. He explained that the mistake took place at a supplier during the manufacturing of a vitamin premix, he described the process Hill’s went through to identify the problem, and most importantly, he expressed sincere regret and sadness for all the people and pets affected by the error. He listened to my frustrations and welcomed my feedback. He explained that the company prioritized releasing the recall information over setting up communication pathways which ultimately spared more pets but led to the frustrations so many of us experienced. He connected me to a Hill’s veterinarian to discuss medical specifics and invited me to reach out with any further questions or concerns.
I am just one veterinarian. Hill’s sells food through at least 30,000 animal hospitals, not to mention the countless shelter pets they feed (yes, they checked on them as well), and pet stores they supply. Two Hill’s representatives gave me 2 hours of their time in the midst of their disaster. I learned that many pets – even after ingesting the food – should recover. I learned that Hill’s intends to help veterinarians properly screen and care for dogs exposed and potentially sickened by the affected food. I got the facts I needed to care for my patients and clients.
The unexpected benefit of these calls was regaining my trust and confidence in Hill’s. They are working around the clock to correct this tragic miscalculation. I learned of the multitude of preventative measures they take every day to ensure safe food as well as the steps they take to correct problems that arise. Prevention, detection, and intervention is a way of life for them. Not only are the Hill’s employees working around the clock to help and to improve their processes, they are incredibly sad and devastated that they did not have a system in place to verify the supplier’s certified product. They are human, and they are heartbroken.
None of this makes a difference to pet parents whose pet is now sick or dead. I know this, and there is nothing anyone can say or do to ease your pain or justify why your pet was harmed. As pet parents put the pieces back together and our community tries to make sense of this tragedy, let’s support each other. I think it is important that owners have an opportunity to express their anger and grief, that the veterinary community learn the facts and communicate these to our clients, and that Hill’s be held accountable for their mistake. Pet parents need to know that Hill’s sincerely wants to hear from you. They want to know your stories, and they want to help. I encourage everyone to evaluate the facts and choose to support companies that do research, develop quality products, control quality, and hold themselves accountable when they fall short of goals and expectations.
We have to do this together – we grieve together, learn together, and improve together.