Keri Collins has watched helplessly as one by one her Pomeranian Yorkshire terriers die of kidney failure.
She thinks the culprit is the tainted dog food that has broken the hearts of so many pet owners across the nation this year.
One dog died in January and the second one died in February.
"I was counting my blessings because I'd saved one dog, at least," the Lawrence woman said.
But her third dog died this month.
Last winter Collins bought some "wet" dog food from a grocery store to feed her 6- and 4-year-old female Yorkies. Normally the dogs eat dry food, but the softer food was preferable because the dogs were suffering from a bout of tonsillitis.
Soon the dogs started showing signs of a more serious illness. They were lethargic and they vomited.
Collins took them to Herschel Lewis, a Lawrence veterinarian. Blood tests showed their kidneys were failing.
In mid-March several dog and cat deaths nationwide were attributed to tainted food. FDA tests ultimately placed blame on melamine found in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate used in pet foods imported from China. Melamine is a chemical used to make plastic.
Collins thinks she bought one of the tainted brands because two of the dogs became ill not long after eating the food.
The third dog ate only "bits and pieces" of the tainted food, Collins said. That may account for the delay in noticeable symptoms of illness, Lewis said.
"Just because they eat it today it doesn't mean they are going to come down (ill) next week," the veterinarian said. "It could be six weeks or it could be six months."
But once those symptoms are noticed, death can come quickly, he said.
Even if symptoms of illness are caught early, it is difficult to save a dog from kidney failure, Lewis said.
"For you and I, they would put us on kidney dialysis and then put us on a transplant list," he said.
The deaths of Collins' first two dogs baffled Lewis before the publicity about the tainted dog food.
"Kidney failure is a fact of life and death in dogs, but these were really young dogs," he said. "It was very sudden."
Collins buried her dogs in her yard. She contacted a California law firm about joining a class-action lawsuit against distributors of the tainted food.
"Those were my kids and I'm devastated," Collins said of her dogs. "I'm upset because I think all of this was being swept under the rug and nobody was being told anything."
Lewis said he and other veterinarians are seeing more cases of chronic and acute kidney failure in dogs that have never been exposed to the tainted brands of food.
"I have no idea why that would be," he said. "It's just observation."
Collins hadn't planned to get another dog anytime soon. That changed last week when her stepson brought her a Chihuahua.
"When I heard she was headed to the (dog) pound, I had to keep her," she said.