Unwanted cats and dogs are posing a distressing new problem for humane societies across Maryland: what to do with the animals after euthanasia.
A Virginia-based rendering company, Valley Proteins of Winchester, has stopped accepting the carcasses of cats and dogs, leaving many county animal control agencies to find a new way to dispose of society's cast-off companions.
"Now, all of a sudden, every animal shelter is left high and dry with no place to send their animals," said Nicky Ratliff, executive director of the Humane Society in Carroll County and president of Professional Animal Workers of Maryland, the state association of humane organizations and animal control agencies.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun about animal control groups struggling with the disposal of euthanized animals should have said that Anne Arundel County Animal Control has a contract with Phoenix Services of Baltimore to incinerate its euthanized animals beginning July 1.
The Sun regrets the error.
Baltimore must dispose of 250 tons of dead animals a year; Carroll County, 17 tons; and Baltimore County, 125 tons.
The jurisdictions' agreements for disposal with Valley Proteins will end June 30. The company notified them in mid-March that it was discontinuing its service after a Washington television station's report questioning the company's rendering process raised concerns among its pet-food clients, said company President J.J. Smith.
Carroll, Washington and Allegany counties are sending animal carcasses to an incinerator at the Maryland Department of Agriculture's Animal Health Laboratory in Frederick. That arrangement will end in December.
"At the end of December, we need to have a new game plan," Ratliff said.
Baltimore, Howard County and Baltimore County are searching for a ways to dispose of the animals after June 30. Anne Arundel County has an agreement with Biomedical Waste Service of Hanover to incinerate dead animals. The Anne Arundel and Howard humane societies did not provided an estimate of the tonnage of animals destroyed each year in those counties.
Burying the animals in landfills was rejected in Carroll. "We're trying to keep use of the landfill to what's absolutely necessary," said Gary Horst, director of enterprise and recreation services for Carroll. "The volume of waste we're burying has been reduced to a fraction of what it was in years past."
Constructing an incinerator is a possibility.
"The alternative exists for a couple of counties to get together and build a crematorium for the animals," Ratliff said. "It'll probably end up being the most cost-effective way to do it."
Elsewhere in Maryland, Prince George's County will begin using Family Pet Cremations, based in Chantilly, Va., on July 1. Frederick and Queen Anne's counties have permanent agreements with the incinerators at their county's animal health labs, said Roger Olson, Maryland's chief of animal health.
Olson oversees Maryland's five state animal health labs, four of which are equipped with incinerators.
"We're pretty much near capacity at all our labs," he said. "We can help the counties out, but we can't say we'll take whatever they can give us."
The Northeastern Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, an independent state agency that helps several jurisdictions - including Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Carroll, Montgomery and Baltimore counties - resolve environmental concerns about waste disposal, is seeking bids from incineration companies to dispose of the animals.
The news report that spurred Valley Proteins to discontinue its service to the humane societies aired in February on WJLA-TV in Washington.
"They made it sound like we're making money off of dead dogs," Smith said. "We thought we were performing a service."
Valley Proteins supplies pet food and commercial feed manufacturers with processed scraps from meat production and with oils recycled from restaurant deep-fat fryers. In addition, the company processes animals destroyed by humane societies to produce low-grade oils and proteins for commercial poultry feeds.
WJLA's report focused on the fate of animals destroyed by animal control agencies, said Del Walters, one of the station's news anchors. "We're talking about thousands of pets a year," he said. "We wanted people to know they don't bury them in a cemetery with gravestones."
Smith said his company discontinued the service for humane societies because the TV report left the impression that the products from all rendering operations were used in pet food. His company, Smith said, does not produce pet foods from destroyed pets.
"We've always been able to give pet-food companies the confidence that we have multiple systems, and we keep them separate," Smith said. The recent broadcasts have eroded confidence in this company, he said, adding "It's gotten to the point that the consumer perception is damaging to our reputation."
Michael Mullen, company spokesman for Heinz Pet Foods in Newport, Ky., said that pet food companies investigate their suppliers to ensure that cats and dogs are not incorporated into its foods.
Smith said that rendering companion animals is a small part of Valley Proteins' business.
"We will never notice on our books whether we did or did not service" the humane societies, Smith said, because his contracts with them account for "one thousandth of one percent" of his total business.
He said pressure from customers in the pet-food industry convinced the company that discontinuing the companion animal business was the right decision.
"The real sensational article is how irresponsible animal owners in America are, so that so many animals have to be euthanized," he said.