The Raw Material of Misery

February 11, 2010 at 12:11 am 26 comments

For years we’ve heard stories that seemed to be urban myths waring us that trace amounts of sodium pentobarbital in pet foods came from the rendered remains of shelter animals. Turns out – it’s probably not a myth…

Newspapers are reporting that euthanized shelter animals from every public shelter in Southern California are being sold to a disposal firm that boils, grinds and processes them into raw materials to be re-used in lubricants, polish, soap, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, gelatin and fertilizers. And it’s been going on for years.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reports:

County animal control officials said they weren’t surprised.

“I’ve heard of those potential uses for the animals’ remains,” said Brian Cronin, division chief for the San Bernardino County’s Animal Care and Control Division. “The reality is that those responsible pet owners who would elect to dispose of their animals through other means can choose to do so.”

Owners of euthanized animals can opt to have them cremated or buried at their own expense, Cronin said.

“Unfortunately, for government agencies … this is the most cost-effective option that’s available, and it’s my understanding that’s why every other agency uses this service,” he said. “In our priorities, we prefer to invest in those animals that are alive and in the shelter and in the community.”

I suppose that selling dead animals to a rendering plant is more cost-effecting than, say, burying them in a landfill. But dear doG in heaven – HAVE WE LOST ALL OUR CAPACITY FOR COMPASSION?

These animals end their lives in a strange and terrifying place, separated from the homes and families they’ve known, confined for endless hours, subjected to overwhelming noise and smell – and we can’t even give them the barest modicum of dignity by treating them as something more than a soulless raw material?

The disgusting details:

Bill Gorman, president of D&D Disposal, said the firm doesn’t conduct media interviews and declined to discuss what his company does with animal remains.

But the April 2004 report by Los Angeles County Animal Shelters detailed how euthanized animals are recycled in a process known as “rendering.”

“The remains are placed in large vats and heated to a high temperature in excess of 265 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point they become sterile and free of pathogens,” the report states. “Then a series of mechanical (processes) occur that separate the fat, liquid and proteins into separate collection systems.”

Since I installed a flock of chickens in my backyard, I’ve refused to buy feed from the only store in town that carries it – because the brand they carry includes rendered animal fat and protein in its ingredients. Instead, I drive to a rural grain elevator 40 miles away to buy another (fairly generic) brand that doesn’t. I’m glad now that I did – and I’ll also make double-extra-sure that the food and treats I buy for the dogs don’t contain rendered materials either.

Avoiding specific rendered materials in products like soaps, lubricants and especially (yikes!) pharmaceuticals could be more problematic. I’ll have to do some research to see what I can find on this.

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Murder Hollow Update Pied Pooper?

26 Comments Add your own

  • 1. bluntobject  |  February 11, 2010 at 1:22 am

    What the….

    I need to learn some new words properly to express how I feel about this.

    For a while now I’ve wanted to do something more useful with my corpse than pollute the atmosphere via cremation, but turning into chicken feed isn’t what I had in mind. I can’t imagine feeling any differently about my cats or dogs. Is there any demand for necropsy animals in veterinary schools? Helping to train folks to save lives seems like a fitting last use of one’s remains.

  • 2. Shiva Wolfe  |  February 11, 2010 at 1:30 am

    While I am in agreement with your sadness and outrage, I also wonder: What is the morally significant difference between this type of disposal/use of these animals’ bodies and the process of turning cows’ bodies into hamburgers? They all -dogs, cats, cows, pigs, the whole lot of sentient beings – in my view, deserve better than the ends they meet at our hands and, all too often, the short lives we allow them before we make use of them as “raw materials.”

  • 3. Mike  |  February 11, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Honestly, I’m not sure I have a problem with it. Wolves don’t bury their dead – that’s entirely a human invention. Better that their now lifeless and feeling-less bodies have some use than burn into the air or rot slowly in a landfill.

    Now, ending up in dogfood doesn’t seem like a good idea (although I’ll admit I’m no biologist to talk of prions and mad cow disease or similar). But theres no reason they can’t be used.

    Of course, personally I’d be fine if they used me for fertilizer instead of tossing me in a box to rot slowly. Although it might be nice if it were in my family garden instead of being rendered for fat…. in the end though, you’re dead – in any of the Biblical religions your body is just an empty husk at that point, and if you’re an atheist it is, too.

  • 4. YesBiscuit  |  February 11, 2010 at 8:08 am

    The idea of needlessly killing pets and then grinding them up to feed to other pets is nauseating to me. For one thing, these are pets we’re talking about, not food animals. The USDA isn’t monitoring or regulating how they are being raised or killed or processed into food (of course they are not intended for HUMAN consumption). For another thing, they do not need to be killed just because they don’t have homes. We can find them homes!

  • 5. Eleanor  |  February 11, 2010 at 8:37 am

    If the owners of the animals used in this manner don’t like it, they COULD avoid it by taking responsibility for their pets in life and in death. Don’t drop them off at the facility, and the problem’s solved.

    I think it takes a lot of nerve to take your “problem” pet, in whatever way that problem manifests itself, turn it into a shelter worker’s or tax payer’s problem, and then complain about the outcome. Beggers can’t be choosy.

    I have several urns sitting on a shelf in my training room. The dogs were with me until it was their time to die, at which point, I took them to my veterinarian, I stayed with them while they died, I made arrangements for the cremation, and I paid for it all.

    I believe that option is open to others as well.

  • 6. H. Houlahan  |  February 11, 2010 at 8:50 am

    It just doesn’t bother me on an emotional/aesthetic level.

    Dead is dead. A corpse is a corpse. Human, pet, livestock — whatever. Ain’t getting any more dead.

    The bones and tripes that I salvage from the slaughterhouse for the dogs would otherwise be picked up by the renderer. Better that than a landfill. Same for animals killed in the shelters.

    When it comes to shelter animals, I’m more concerned about making sure they don’t become dead for no good reason.

    Fortunately, it now costs money to have the renderer pick them up (at least it does for the small slaughterhouses). So there’s no incentive to kill more. It just costs less than other kinds of waste disposal.

    Now, I’m all in favor of labeling requirements, especially on human food and animal feed, so that people can choose not to consume rendered product. Whether they avoid that for aesthetic or ethical or health concerns is up to them.

    Now one thing I would be interested in knowing — does PeTA send the contents of its walk-in freezer to the renderer?

  • 7. Ken Chiacchia  |  February 11, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    As a side issue, I’m not sure the rendering process is sufficient to destroy prion particles — so scrapie/mad cow/Creutzfeld Jacob would seem to be a risk.

    Carnivores like dogs and cats are highly resistant to prions, of course — but I don’t know that I’d care to trust that, nor to eat gelatin that came from an abandoned pet.

  • 8. LoveMyPuppies  |  February 11, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Why are enough animals euthanized in shelters to even become consumer products? That’s an enormous excess of dog and cat. How are we going to find them homes when the “responsible dog owner” population is more concerned with finding reputable breeders than helping an animal in need? Perhaps that wasn’t a fair question. There are lots of great people doing rescue. All I’m saying is even “reputable” breeding practices aren’t all they’re made out to be and rescue is a win/win situation.

  • 9. Jimmy  |  February 11, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    “Rendered Remains” sounds like something dreamed up by the liberal media team, or it could be what’s left of our Constitution/Country over the next three years.

    It seems we live in the age of “Disposal” and the shelters are doing the dirty work for the irresponsible pet owners across the nation.

    I deplore what happens to all the forgotten pets at these shelters, and the blame rest on all of our shoulders, but I have no problems with using their remains as I could care less what happens to my own remains once my last breath is taken.

    On the other hand………..

    Personally when the time comes, I bury my dearly departed pets with their own personal time capsule which includes a short life history, and pictures etc. Maybe in hopes one day when they are accidently dug up……..that it will touch that persons heart and they will know how much this animal was loved and cherished?

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. You have some very intriguing posts.

    If only they had a class called “Responsibility 101″ taught in our classrooms across the nation.

  • 10. Rob McMillin  |  February 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Not to be using Google search links where you can use a direct story link instead. I’m not paranoid, but I do find it at times irritating that I’m pushed through a redirect whose sole purpose is to fatten Google’s store o’ knowledge about what I do online.

    Incidental: the Daily Bulletin is part of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group that includes the Daily News, the only signficant competition to the Times within the city proper anymore. I don’t know how these guys are holding on; they’ve been shedding reporters at a frightening pace, and the local papers of all stripes are sharing coverage under “Special to the X” headlines. (the Orange County Register ceded its Dodgers coverage to the LANG’s reporters a year or two ago). Between the trend of online news delivery (with its invisible or negative profit margins) and the aging of the demographic willing to pony up for a delivered paper, I can see these guys vanishing within five years.

  • 11. SmartDogs  |  February 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    Great comment people – thanks!

    First – it really bothers me that enough dead dogs and cats are being generated (at least in Southern California) to be worth hauling away and rendering.

    Next, regarding the idea of rendering itself as horrific – okay, maybe that’s my own, personal, bugbear but in a previous career I had a project at a rendering plant – and it was the vilest, most nightmare-inspiring place I’ve ever been. Worse than a slaughterhouse or a meat processing plant. So Shiva, I do see it as different from turning cows into hamburger.

    I think that incinerating, composting or even landfilling, would be more respectful than rendering.

    Biscuit correctly points out that USDA isn’t monitoring or regulating the raising or killing of these animals; so, as Mike and Ken noted – how do we know we’re not spreading some dangerous (and possibly zoonotic) prion disease?

    I think that widespread use of random sourced rendered materials in general (not just cats and dogs) may come back to bite us in the ass one day.

  • 12. Rob McMillin  |  February 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    As for the moral issues: I tend to agree with Heather, dead is dead, and more dead they won’t get. The problem is how they got there in the first place.

    I find the tension between mandatory spay/neuter laws and responsible breeding also difficult to reconcile; among other things, how do you keep good temperament genes in the gene pool?

  • 13. Rob McMillin  |  February 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    As for the quantity — San Bernardino County euthanized 21,876 animals in 2008 (PDF), a figure found, oddly enough, in the state rabies control activities reports. It’s the second highest number in the state (only more populous, urban Los Angeles County has more), and the highest euthanasia percentage of any large local animal control authority in the state; 50.6% of the animals admitted to the county animal control are killed. Los Angeles only puts to death 35.8% while handling more than twice the load. You may ascribe that to the collapse of the housing market, to some degree, because adjacent Riverside County has a similar euthanasia rate (46.6%). Orange County, where I live, is among the lowest two in the state with over 20,000 animals processed, at 27.3%, and San Diego “only” kills 25.6%.

  • 14. Rob McMillin  |  February 11, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Actually, I were wrong; Fresno County is worse, euthanizing 55% of the animals they take in.

  • 15. SmartDogs  |  February 11, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks, how very – civil – of you.
    [grin]

  • 16. EmilyS  |  February 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    I don’t get fetishizing the already dead.
    Really, the dead do not care what happens to their bodies.

    I agree with those who want to focus on preventing deaths.
    I agree with those concerned about what might be in the dead bodies that would be dangerous for those who consume them.

    But a dead body is a dead body… Anyone remember
    “Wisconsis Death Trip”? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Death_Trip

  • 17. Mike  |  February 11, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Definitely agree on preventing deaths. No-kill shelters seem unrealistic at times (some dogs simply are too violent or sick to be placed, and the money spent on keeping them in a shelter could be better used to save dozens of dogs who actually can find a home), but there’s no reason shelters can’t have a 90% placement rate or higher. I am so happy with our local animal shelter – it’s just a country county pound, but they manage to place the vast majority of dogs that come through – pushing the ones they can out to breed rescues and foster homes, working with the local prison to train dogs, and aggressively marketing their dogs and cats in the community as much as they can.

    So I completely agree – the problem isn’t what’s being done to the bodies (get some use out of them, as long as its safe), but that the system is failing so many animals.

  • 18. Pai  |  February 11, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    “Definitely agree on preventing deaths. No-kill shelters seem unrealistic at times (some dogs simply are too violent or sick to be placed”

    There isn’t ONE legitimate No-Kill shelter out there that doesn’t euthanize the hopelessly ill or psychologically damaged. No-Kill is not ‘hoarding at the expense of quality of life’ like some would have you believe. The definition of a ‘hopeless case’ can be open to interpretation depending on who you talk to, of course.

  • 19. Christina  |  February 11, 2010 at 8:37 pm

    One reason my dog eats not only grain free food, but the specific proteins are listed. I can see now how important it is to check the labeling on ALL products, especially the ones mentioned above in your article. Thanks for opening my eyes……..I also do not have words to express my feelings about this.

  • 20. Eleanor  |  February 11, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    “rescue is a win/win situation”

    I have a real hard time with this, and I spent years dedicated to rescue, and if local legal limits weren’t so, well… limiting, I’d still be participating in more than a “write an occasional check” sort of way. I have a hard time turning away from a dog in need.

    There are some true rescues. And there are a greater number of organizations flying under the rescue banner whose volunteers sacrifice the true good of dogs for their own egos and points toward heaven, and those organizations which are little more than better named fronts for the pet shops they say they abhor. It all depends on the business model.

    There are few dogs bred by truly responsible breeders in rescues or humane societies. And even fewer dogs in those places who were owned by truly responsible owners.

    Homeless pets are not a breeding problem, they’re an owner problem. They all had homes at one time. If the owners lived up to their responsibilities for the lifetime of the pet, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

    Let’s not make this breeders vs rescue.

  • 21. Anissa  |  February 12, 2010 at 3:09 am

    Oh wow … while on a logical level I agree that dead is dead, and using the carcasses in some way is better than however many tons of pets in a landfill, on an emotional level I recoil in horror.

    It’s not just that so very animals are dying that they can actually sell them to be rendered, though that is terrible. And it’s not just that feeding the remains of animals back to their own species invites prionic diseases, though that gives me chills.

    My own pets are either cremated or buried on the property, regardless of size or how long I owned them. I cannot imagine sending the body of one of my dogs to a rendering plant – I know his soul wasn’t in that body anymore after his death, but I still had my German Shepherd cremated. I keep his ashes in an urn, and they will be scattered with my ashes after my death so even those last bits of our bodies will always be together.

    The thought of this happening to pets just sickens me, and I know I’m totally responding on gut level here, but I can’t help it. So very glad I already switched to organic bath stuff and cosmetics that aren’t made from animal products.

  • 22. Gina Spadafori  |  February 12, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Put me with the “dead is dead” crowd. As far as animals and people are concerned, all my efforts go upstream — getting healthcare and better food for humans, getting pets in homes and ending cruelty to livestock. (But note: Not ending livestock. I believe in humane, sustainable animal agriculture.)

    I do share Perfessor Chaos’ concern about where the rendered substances end up and what risks that involves to the food supply. For some “fun,” find the WSJ page 1 piece from a couple years back on all the shit that gets fed to factory-farmed pigs and cattle. Load of rotting “donuts”? Check. Semi of rotted meat? Check. Bloody, rat-turd infested remains from a “food” factory floor? Check.

    Bon appetit, my sweets.

  • 23. Rob McMillin  |  February 12, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    One additional comment on this topic. Seal Beach Animal Care, the regional animal shelter for the city of Seal Beach and several others, is a no-kill shelter that does direct processing of animals taken in by local animal control. The SPCALA facility near us takes in animals from Long Beach animal control (among others). Both claim to be no-kill shelters, but SPCALA coexists with the municipal facility next door that does the dirty work of separating the “adoptable” dogs from the rest, using whatever regimen. I find that latter to be cheating, just a bit.

  • 24. Ed  |  February 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Dead is dead – but how we treat the dead reflects on the living. I believe there’s a respectful (and safe) way to use the meat for something worthwhile, but don’t ask me (or Robert Heinlein and Christianity) to create the process.

  • 25. Valerie  |  February 14, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Feeding dogs and cats to dogs and cats makes them cannibals. Many people consider their pets to be family members and most cultures have a cannibalism taboo, so it seems reasonable that people would apply a similar taboo to their pets. Cannibalism has been a factor in outbreaks of prion diseases. Prions are remarkably resistant to destruction and can survive high temperatures without denaturation, ie might get through the rendering process in fine fettle, ready to cause widespread mayhem. This is beyond disgusting. It is a disaster waiting to happen. Why take the chance?

    A steady dose of barbiturates, even a low dose, in their food is not likely to be healthful for pets either.

    I wouldn’t want to moisturize my skin or polish my floors with dead pets either. Of course priority one is keeping them from being killed in the first place.

  • 26. Cass  |  February 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Ann Martin reports on similar issues in her 1997 book “Food Pets Die For”. She reports that it is not illegal in the US to render companion and other animals for use in animal feed and other items. She explains too that the heat and mixing of the rendering process would make it difficult to test the results for DNA to prove the inclusion of a particular species, such as a dog. The fact that animals have been used this way hasn’t been a secret and shouldn’t come as a shock.

    If you think that by buying food that lists particular animal sources is safe, think again. With very few exceptions – I can’t think of any – all animals used in animal feed are rendered. Their bodies are rendered then blended to a slurry that goes into the food. It’s usually the entire body, and may include whatever else was in the slaughterhouse at the time – like the sawdust shavings on the floor.

    The only way to be sure that an animal does not enter this chain is to ask for their dead body back and bury him or her. It’s unfortunate, but abuses have been shown to occur in the cremation industry. With that said, I’ve opted for cremation and hoped for the best.

    I agree with Cronin’s words that it is more important to use the money to try to help the living. The problem isn’t that animal’s bodies are being used in this way. The problem lies in the companion animal “industry” that produces an excess of companion animals. Their deaths, and a cost effective means to dispose of their remains, is the inevitable result.

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