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Purina’s Ex-Cat Supplier Claws at Abuse Claims

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) - Nestle Purina canned a contract with an animal-training company that supplied Persian cats for Fancy Feast ads after the company was wrongfully accused of animal abuse, Critters of the Cinema claims in court.

Critters of the Cinema sued Nestle Purina Petcare on Monday in Kern County Court.

Critters has been training cats for Nestle's Fancy Feast ads since 1995, and in 2010 agreed to provide only chinchilla or silver-shaded Persians for photo shoots, according to the lawsuit.

On Dec. 30, 2013, both companies were sued in what Critters calls a "sham" lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court, which accused Critters of mistreating its cats.

Despite nearly two decades of working together, Critters says, Nestlé sent a letter terminating their contract, saying it could not be associated with a company accused of "violat[ing] the humane ideals that have become the criteria by which defendant operates."

Critters "adamantly" denied the animal abuse allegations. It sent Nestlé "notarized attestations" from several people, including a veterinarian, saying Critters has always treated its cats with compassion, according to the new complaint.

Though Nestlé said it believed Critters was innocent, it refused to abide by the contract because, "[u]nfortunately, as [plaintiff] must surely be aware working extensively in Hollywood, the reality of circumstances is often secondary to the public perception of circumstances," the complaint states, citing Nestlé's letter to Critters. (Brackets in complaint).

Nestlé justified the move by claiming that working with a company accused of hurting animals could tarnish its brand, Critters says.

It claims Nestlé's decision lacked "any coherent, rationale and/or legal basis," given Critters' decades-long clean record of service with Nestlé and the unfounded nature of the allegations in the "sham lawsuit," whose claims, it says, Nestlé did not bother to investigate.

Moreover, Critters says, Nestlé knew about these allegations for roughly seven months but hired Critters for several jobs before arbitrarily firing it in July.

Days after Nestlé sent the termination letter, the court dismissed the "sham lawsuit," and the plaintiff has not appealed, according to the complaint.

Critters claims that losing the Nestlé contract has "effectively destroyed plaintiff's business and reputation, let alone plaintiff's representatives' reputation in the animal training industry."

Nestlé did not immediately return an emailed request for comment Monday afternoon.

Critters seeks at least $1 million in damages for breach of contract, breach of faith, and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.

It is represented by Christopher Gonzalez with the California Law Firm in Glendale, who did not immediately return an emailed request for comment.

Critters of the Cinema, founded in 1981 by Rob Bloch, trains and provides animals for movies, commercials, music videos and live stage performances, according to its website.

It says it has provided trained animals for more than 4,000 jobs, including work for Meow Mix, Hallmark, C.S.I., Wells Fargo Bank, Tom's of Maine, and L.L. Bean.

Chinchilla Persian cats look like fluffy marshmallows with pink noses and blue or blue-green eyes. They typically have doll faces rather than the flat-faced profile normally associated with Persian cats, and are characterized by shimmery, beautiful coats.

Silver-shaded Persian cats are often called the "Rolls Royce" of cat breeds. Noted for their long, luxurious fur and elegance, silver shaded Persians tend to be smaller than other Persians and have dark noses and vibrant green or blue-green eyes, according to The Cat Fancier's Association.

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