COLLARGATE Part 3: News outlet responds after veterinarians debunk Seresto story, Gannett still mum

TCR received a response from The Midwest Center late Friday afternoon, which we are publishing in full with our response.




1. While Ms. Dempsey may have a different definition of “colleagues” (which we can agree to disagree on), the fact is that, as TCR reported, two of Hettinger’s only three “expert” sources are published on a website where Hettinger is also published, and those two “expert” sources share a recent byline on that website.

2. With regard to Elanco having asked for a correction, TCR reported that Elanco told us that the company had asked for a correction, which is true. We reported that a spokeswoman for Elanco told us on the record that the company had asked for a correction. We did not state, as a fact, that Elanco requested a correction because we have no way of knowing whether the correction request was made – or whether it was made to Midwest or to USA Today, the publisher of the story.  In fact, that is, indeed, one mistake TCR made: We should have specified that the Elanco spokesperson told us that the correction request was being made to USA Today.

3. With regard to Ms. Dempsey’s point about the reporter, Hettinger, and his blog in which he refers to one of the story’s three named “expert” sources in the same breath as “friends doing dope shit”, respectfully, we could not follow her point.

4.  Ms. Dempsey does not address the main point of our story, which was that no voices of veterinarians were included in the Seresto story and that since the story was published, the overwhelming reaction of the veterinary community has been critical, at best; moreover, the story’s clear implication – that the collars are killing dogs – has been vigorously debunked by several renowned board-certified veterinary toxicologists, including Ahna Brutlag, the incoming President of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology, the organization that certifies veterinarians in the specialty.

The story’s implication that the collars are killing dogs now appears to be a claim that Ms. Dempsey is backing away from by writing that the story simply laid out some data that “merits further investigation.”

The headline of the story was, “Popular Flea Collar Linked to 1,700 Pet Deaths.” Is USA Today now going to change its headline to “Popular Flea Collar Merits Further Investigation”?

5. Ms. Dempsey writes, “Your article indicates that you believe that the product is safe, based on the sources quoted in your article. It is appropriate for you and other interested persons to look into this matter.” In fact, TCR did look into this matter by asking the experts: veterinarians, including veterinary toxicologists. Ms. Dempsey’s organization did not—or if it did speak with veterinarians before publishing the Seresto story, it obviously did not convey their views, which, according to our reporting, would have undercut a great “gotcha” story.

6. Ms. Dempsey writes that Mr. Hettinger’s story “showed there were many injuries and deaths correlated with use of the collar…”

No, the Seresto story did not “show” anything.

Mr. Hettinger’s story told without showing.

He did not offer medical records. He did not offer necropsies. And, again, there was not one interview with a veterinarian, including any attempt to cross-check the owners’ accounts with their veterinarians. Those are knowable, checkable facts which why, at TCR, it’s our policy to cross-check an owner’s account with his or her veterinarian.