Jonathan Bilyk Jun. 23, 2015, 4:30pm

Three dog owners, blaming a dog treat for their dogs’ health problems and even death, have brought a federal class action against pet product maker Sergeant’s.

On June 19, three named plaintiffs, including residents of Kane and Sangamon counties in Illinois and formerly of Jefferson County, Ky., have sued Omaha, Neb.-based Sergeant’s Pet Care Products Inc., asking a judge to approve a nationwide class action over what they allege to be the harm done to their dogs, and those of other dog owners across the U.S., by Sergeant’s Pur Luv dog treats.

The action was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago by attorneys Joseph J. Siprut, Richard L. Miller II, Todd McLawhorn and Gregg M. Barbakoff, of the firm of Siprut PC, of Chicago.

The case centers on the injuries to and deaths of dogs allegedly from bowel obstructions and other complications allegedly caused by the pet treats, which the plaintiffs contend cannot be properly digested by dogs.

“Far from being wholesome and healthy for dogs, the treats can cause serious injury, illness, and even death,” the complaint alleges. “Specifically, certain parts of the treat tend not to dissolve or otherwise break down after dogs ingest them, but instead persist as rock-hard chunks which can cause bowel obstructions and other serious injuries – including death.

“Many dog owners have watched their pets suffer after consuming Sergeant’s Pur Luv Treats, and many dogs have required expensive, life-saving veterinary care.”

Named plaintiffs in the action include Bryan Schneider, now of Ohio, but recently of Jefferson County, Ky., near Louisville; Ryan Bietsch, of Sangamon County, Ill., near Springfield; and Michael Pfortmiller, of Kane County, Ill., in west suburban Chicago.

Schneider alleges he purchased the treats at a Petsmart store in Louisville. Bietsch said he purchased the treats at a Petsmart store in Springfield. And Pfortmiller stated he purchased the treats for his dog at the Cabela’s store in Hoffman Estates.

All three said, after their dogs consumed the treats, the dogs developed serious health problems, requiring extensive veterinary care. While Schneider’s dog, Tank, and Pfortmiller’s dog, Ginger, recovered after passing “a large chunk of red material, identical to the center of the treats,” Bietsch alleges his dog, Wrigley, required surgery, but still died.

All three allege their pets’ veterinarians linked the dogs’ health problems to the Pur Luv treats.

The plaintiffs’ complaint notes they enlisted Kelly Swanson, an associate professor of comparative animal nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Animal Sciences, to study the treats.

The complaint asserts Swanson’s study demonstrates the treats do not properly dissolve when exposed to gastric acids, such as those present in a dog’s stomach.

After six hours immersed in the simulated contents of a dog’s stomach, about 80 percent of the Pur Luv treat remained undigested, the complaint states. And after 18 hours, exposed to the simulated contents of a small intestine, about 40 percent of the treat remained undigested, the complaint states.

“Sergeant’s knew or should have known that certain parts of Pur Luv Treats do not break down sufficiently in dogs’ digestive tracts, and that ingesting large pieces or chunks of the Pur Luv Treats could cause serious injury to dogs, including, without limitation, obstructed bowels, severe pain, and death,” the complaint states.

“On information and belief, Sergeant’s concealed this information in order to maximize profits.”

The seven-count complaint against Sergeant’s includes allegations of violations of federal law and state consumer fraud laws in Illinois and Kentucky, as well as breaches of implied and express warranties.

While Sergeant’s is incorporated in Michigan and based in Nebraska, and its parent company, Perrigo, is based in Ireland, the plaintiffs said they have brought the lawsuit in Chicago under Illinois’ “longarm statute,” which they said empowers them to pursue Sergeant’s because it does substantial business in Illinois.

The plaintiffs have requested unspecified actual, compensatory and statutory damages from Sergeant’s on behalf of a class they believe could number in the thousands.

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