Though I'm loath to admit it, the Pet Food Recall (in caps, now) has made a hero (for me, at least) of the one outfit vets love to hate: Banfield, The Pet Hospital. In case you live outside the US (or in a Banfield-free pet zone), let me first explain that this is a group of 600-plus hospitals once owned by PetSmart and now run independently.

I’ve always thought the single best thing about Banfield, apart from catering to those who can’t afford fancy-hospital vet medicine, is their database. Everything is covetously computerized with diagnosis and treatment codes so they know exactly what’s happening, epidemiologically-speaking, across their many hospitals.

And guess what they noticed over the past three months? A 30% rise in renal failure in cats. That’s unlikely to be the result of anything other than our notorious “on-the-list” or “so-far-not-yet-on the list” foods. According to their analysis, three out of 10,000 dogs and cats were diagnosed with renal disease. They saw one million pets during that period—an enviable sample size for any study.

It’s a damning statistic for those companies still clinging to their “it’s only a few cases” philosophy. Consider, also, that Banfield sees a higher percentage of lower-income and/or “shots-only” cases than the rest of us. In fact, I have several clients who go to their nearby Banfield for basics and drive out of their way to us when their pet gets sick. So, in my estimation, their 0.03% incidence may well represent a falsely depressed percentage.

Nonetheless, the FDA says these numbers are likely to remain our most reliable indicator of food-related illness. In spite of the probable underreporting in this population, it’s something. It’s measurable. It’s unbiased. It’s a reasonable sample size, even it’s a less that representative group of pets.

So Banfield gets my vote (despite my reservations about so many of their policies and practices). Although they make lots of ready cash off prescription diets, they took the [unexpected] step of presenting their private findings to the possible detriment of their consumer product powerhouse suppliers. But I still have reservations.

Maybe I’m cynical and find it possible that their low-ball estimates will prevail in the courtroom of public opinion (instead of the “real” numbers we’ll likely never prove now that we have their big sample size). Maybe it’s that I still love to hate them. (Their depersonalized medicine is anathema to my personal ethic, despite the fact that I believe they do more good than harm.)

Ultimately, though, my beef is with the people who can afford better care for their pets and choose not to seek it out, not so much with the company or those who have no safer, cost-effective alternative. At least Banfield’s considerably powerful Wal-Mart methods seem to have proven useful—in this case.