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Thursday, March 26, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Troubleshooter

Flea Time! -- Claims Questioned For Electronic `Remedies'

Scratch, scratch. Snap! Looks like Troubles, our big dog with poke-up ears, caught one of those pesky fleas.

According to the experts, this will be a banner year for fleas because of the mild winter.

We could buy one of those ultrasonic or electronic anti-flea collars that retail for about $40 for our favorite canine. Maybe we should add a plug-in device that sells for $35 to $60, and promises to ward off fleas and rodents.

If I need a dog collar plus a plug-in gizmo for every room, I'd have to spend nearly $600!

The vet recommends a bath and flea dip ($28 for canines over 60 pounds); spray for the house ($18.95); for the dog ($9.85) and the yard ($16.95). That's under $75. Sounds more realistic.

The Federal Trade Commission says these electronic gizmos don't work.

Early this month the FTC charged Sonic Technology Products Inc. of Grass Valley, Calif., with making false advertising claims about its ultrasonic devices.

W. Lowell Robertson of Sonic Technology says he is prepared to litigate the FTC charges all the way to the Supreme Court.

His company never claimed to eliminate fleas or rodents forever, Robertson said. "We claim we repel rodents and fleas," Robertson said.

The FTC says Robertson doesn't have competent scientific tests to back his claims.

In a similar case, the FTC finalized a consent agreement involving the Elexis Corp. of Miami last month.

The feds clamped down on Elexis for saying things like this:

"Put the Microtech-2 Flea Collar on your dog or cat and throw away your poisons. 72 hours later you will forget your pet ever had fleas."

The FTC cited research done at the University of California at Riverside, the University of Florida in Gainesville and Kansas State University.

Elexis has agreed to stop claiming its electronic collars and other pest-control devices will reduce or eliminate fleas on pets and in the home. And the company will stop using names for its collars like Flea Relief, Pet Shield or Flea Buster.

Why do people buy electronic devices?

They sound like an attractive alternative to the fuss and muss of using chemicals, especially around children and pets, says Charles Kleeberg, director of environmental health for the Seattle-King County Health Department. But that doesn't mean the county recommends them.

Information supplied by sellers of electronic devices is strictly anecdotal, says Ed Kane, a consultant to the pet industry who operates in Bellevue and Redmond.

Kane cited a Purdue University study that shows the electronic devices don't work.

Kane and others also warn pet owners against using too many different chemical products causing their animals to suffer a toxic effect.

The Humane Society of Seattle and King County recommends bathing and dipping animals; using sprays and powders, some flea control collars, as well as spraying the house and yard.

The Seattle-King County Health Department licenses pest control companies. Call 296-4783 to learn whether an exterminator is licensed.

There's one more remedy you'll hear mentioned as a flea repellent. Some veterinarians say Avon's Skin-So-Soft bath oil spray will help repel insects.

What does Avon say?

"We don't endorse it for anything other than use as a bath oil," said a representative on Avon's 800 customer service line. "But customers tell us it works as a repellent."

Shelby Gilje's Troubleshooter column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday in the Scene section of The Times. Do you have a problem? Write to Times Troubleshooter, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. Include copies, not originals, of documents indicating payment, guarantees, contracts and other relevant materials.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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