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Pfizer settles lawsuit over Rimadyl, controversial drug that killed Chris Cooper's golden retriever

Big photos below.
Big photos below.

David and Goliath is a tale of the underdog, of surmounting impossible odds and coming out the victor. But when Chris Cooper took on the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the sweetness of an unlikely victory came with a bitter aftertaste.

As we reported in August 2011, Cooper's beloved dog, Sophie, died after being given a drug called Rimadyl. Cooper later sued, and now he's prevailed against the pharmaceutical giant. Continue for more about Sophie, complete with photos, a copy of the suit and more.

The story began back in May of 2009, when Sophie, a golden retriever, injured her knee. Cooper did his "due diligence," researching the best animal surgeons in the business before bringing her in for treatment. He chose a Longmont veterinary clinic, and when the surgeons prescribed Rimadyl, an anti-inflammatory drug, for her recovery, he didn't give it a second thought. Cooper says he did exactly as the surgeons instructed, giving Sophie one pill in the morning and one pill in the evening. But after four or five days, she quit eating, which he calls "unprecedented behavior.

Sophie wrapped in a blanket. All photos by Chris Cooper.
Sophie wrapped in a blanket. All photos by Chris Cooper.

"So we called the vets, and they said to give the dog Pepcid; they didn't say stop giving her the drug or anything," he goes on. "So we gave her the full seven-day course of the drugs, which makes me sick to my stomach, in hindsight, because I feel like I was poisoning my dog because she would only eat the pills from me."

By the time Cooper got Sophie back into the hospital, she was so sick that she spent the next twelve days in an intensive care unit. "During that time, the vets realized, through multiple tests and weeding-out procedures, that it was Rimadyl toxicity that had caused her to go into liver failure," he recalls. "The Pfizer vets had never seen a dog that sick that wasn't dead, so they just said, 'Keep fighting'."

After those twelve days, Cooper brought Sophie home and continued to administer treatments, which he described as having to "hang bags and stick her with needles." When her condition failed to improve, he brought Sophie to the Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where further tests confirmed that her liver was failing due to Rimadyl toxicity. She had a feeding tube inserted, and Cooper was allowed to bring her home again. He describes that time as a "horrible roller coaster," especially when her feeding tube became clogged.

Six weeks later, Sophie died at the CSU hospital.

"Very quickly, her body just gave up," Cooper said. "I was racing up there, and I got north of Longmont, and they said she was having agonal breaths" -- the term for abnormal breathing patterns is derived from "agony" -- "and they put her down. So I couldn't even be there when they put her down, and I still feel guilty to this day."

Continue for more about Sophie and the Pfizer lawsuit.

Sophie and Cooper spend some loving moments together.
Sophie and Cooper spend some loving moments together.

Throughout the course of Sophie's treatment, surgeons and veterinarians never informed Cooper about the potential side effects of Rimadyl on older dogs. He admits that had he looked the drug up on the Internet prior to giving it to her, he probably would have looked for alternatives. Still, the medical professionals in charge of prescribing the drug never provided information. If they had added just that one sentence about side effects, he says, the whole thing could have turned out differently.

Jennifer Edwards, attorney with Wheat Ridge's Animal Law Center, took Cooper's case knowing she would be going up against Pfizer, whose legal resources dwarf those of the admittedly tiny law center.

"We are small, but mighty," she maintains. "Going against a corporation the magnitude and size of Pfizer is certainly a challenge. But we didn't give up. And as a result of that, we reached a settlement. We overcame a lot of hurdles. They tried to dismiss the case -- they tried a number of legal strategies -- but we were able to legally maneuver around them to the point to where they were willing to settle with us."

The terms of the settlement are undisclosed. But for Cooper, it was never about the money. He plans to take "every penny" paid out by Pfizer to lead an informative campaign against Rimadyl and Pfizer's continued use of the controversial drug. Both Cooper and Edwards say they have received hundreds of e-mails and Facebook messages from other people facing similar problems with the drug.

Cooper has launched a website called friendsofsophie.com and developed a brochure that he plans to distribute to as many people and organizations as possible. The law center's Facebook page also has information regarding both the case and the dangers Rimadyl poses to some dogs.

Although he's happy about reaching a settlement, Cooper admits the victory rang a little hollow due to the time he spent "watching my dog suffer for six weeks -- just a horrible death -- and feeling guilty because I'm the one that gave her the drugs. I feel like I poisoned her ,because I did all the due diligence and still ended up with the worst outcome possible. So I feel a lot of guilt. I killed my baby."

Look below to see the original lawsuit, followed by Cooper's brochure.

Christopher Cooper and Shelley Smith vs Pfizer

Rimadyl Brochure

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