As general manager of the Morris Animal Refuge in Center City, Jim DePaul thought he was feeding his own dogs the right stuff.

"It was a good brand," DePaul said, not some bargain variety.

But when Eukanuba, a canned food produced by Canadian-based Menu Foods Inc., was recalled last month by the Food and Drug Administration, DePaul joined the thousands of pet owners nationwide who are switching to organic pet foods - or even making their own.

Now Zoe, his Sheltie mix, and Lolita, his long-haired Chihuahua, are chowing down on an organic brand DePaul found at Trader Joe's.

"It was really hard to find," DePaul said, "because it was selling out so quickly."

Since a massive recall of cat and dog food - as many as 95 brands have been affected since mid-March, among them respected names such as Iams and Hill's Prescription Diet - pet owners have been stripping the shelves of organic brands.

Some people are making their own pet food, and still more are resorting to feeding Fido strictly from the table.

The recall was prompted by Menu Foods' report of 16 animal deaths traced to wet food in cans and pouches that had been contaminated with wheat gluten from China.

Menu Foods, based in Ontario, does not make dry food, and, to date, the only dry food suspected to contain contamination is a cat food that can be obtained only with a prescription, said Cathy McDermott, an FDA spokeswoman.

In addition to Menu, other companies voluntarily recalled their products. Among them, Del Monte Pet Products, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, P&G Pet Care, and Sunshine Mills.

And the FDA investigation continues, McDermott said.

The number of affected animals may grow. A week ago, the veterinary chain Banfield reported a 30 percent increase in kidney failure among cats during the three months the contaminated food was sold. A survey by the Veterinary Information Network found that 5,000 to 10,000 pets may have fallen ill and as many as 2,000 may have died.

The recalls spurred sales in what was an already growing organic pet food market.

Sales rose 46 percent from 2004 and 2005, according to a survey by the Organic Trade Association in Massachusetts. That $30 million in sales may represent only a very small fraction (0.19 percent) of the $15 billion commercial pet food industry, spokeswoman Barbara Haumann said, but consumer demand for organic will likely continue to rise.

At Tailwagger's, a health-food store for pets on DeKalb Pike in Blue Bell, owner Terry Rosen said he had seen "a huge increase in sales in recent weeks."

And outside at Spot's - The Place for Paws in Narberth, a banner declares: "All of Spot's Foods are safe. Zero percent on the recall list. Trust what you buy."

"I'm having trouble keeping the shelves stocked," said owner Andrea Deutsch, whose former pound dog, Maddie, accompanies her at work every day.

"There's definitely been an upswing in people who are interested in feeding their pets healthy foods that don't contain things like wheat gluten as a source of protein," Deutsch said.

But "organic" on the label doesn't tell the whole story.

Until now, government standards for what can be labeled organic in pet foods have been the same as for human consumption, said Emily Brown Rosen of the nonprofit Pennsylvania Certified Organic. She served on a task force that developed recommended standards for organic labeling of pet food, but the task force report won't go before the USDA until fall at the earliest.

"It's a shame the awareness on the part of consumers had to come on the backs of dead dogs and cats," Deutsch said, "But if there is any kind of silver lining to this cloud, that would be it."

Patty McNamara of Abington bought six pouches of Iams lamb and rice for Riggs, her 90-pound black Lab, on a Saturday night, and read news of the recall the next morning.

When she called the company's hotline, McNamara said she was advised to see a vet and get Riggs' blood tested "just in case."

Her Lab never showed any symptoms, but McNamara's fears have not totally subsided.

"We're all worried," said McNamara, who is among a loosely connected group of dog lovers who walk their pets at a park off Highland Avenue in Abington.

"Everybody has concerns," McNamara said, "Everybody you talk to."

One friend told McNamara he planned to feed his dog table food from now on.

"And that's the way it was when I was raised," McNamara said. "We had dogs all the time, and they ate only table food."

Andy Schultz, another Abington dog lover, said he feeds dry food to Kona, his Lab-Shepherd mix, "with just a little people food on top.

"In fact, I just gave her some leftover Easter ham," he said.

And he is baking home-made treats for Kona now that the Alpo he had been giving her is on the recall list.

"Jen, my wife, got a copy of the cookbook Cooking the Three Dog Bakery Way as a gift a while back. So we pulled that out."

Apparently, sales of doggie cook books are up all over. Real Food for Dogs: 50 Vet-Approved Recipes to Please the Canine Gastronome by Arden Moore and Anne Davis was published in 2001, and last week shot up to No. 6 in overall sales at Amazon.com

But veterinarian Diane Eigner, known to Center City felines as the Cat Doctor, cautions against the do-it-yourself approach for a pet's primary needs.

It can be a hazardous endeavor, she said.

"What we don't want people to do is start making their own foods or buying privately made, boutique foods," Eigner said, "because they may not meet the nutritional standards of your pets."

The same goes for table scraps, she said.

Eigner, who serves as the veterinary consultant for the Morris Refuge, recommends pet food that has been scientifically formulated for specific medical and nutritional needs.

But that's not what the pound puppies get at Morris and other shelters.

"We rely completely on donated food," DePaul said.

Carmen Ronio, executive director of the Montgomery County SPCA, feeds his own adopted Bernese mountain dog Science Diet, "and I'm praying no contaminants will pop up in that."

He said he understood the appeal of organic pet food but was not sure it will solve the problem of consumer confidence.

"It would make some people feel more confident," he said, "until the industry gets itself together."

For Information

Updates on the pet food recall are posted on the FDA Web site, http://www.fda.gov, and at 1-888-463-6332. Menu Foods' toll-free number is 1-866-895-2708.
Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http:go.philly.com/diannamarder.