The death of a pet is traumatic enough, without its owner having to wonder whether it was disposed of properly. But last week's grisly discovery of dead animals that should have been cremated by a Chantilly company, but weren't, has upset many area residents.
"IT'S A very sad situation," said Fairfax County police spokeswoman Mary Mulrenan. "We've had a number of distraught citizens call us [to see if their pets were among those found]. They had dealings with the business either directly or through a veterinarian or the [county animal] shelter."
The business in question is Family Pet Cremations of Chantilly. It's housed in the Northern Virginia Funeral Services building on Lee Highway — just down the street from the county's Criminal Justice Academy — and its president, Russell Harman, owns both facilities.
Until the whole, unsavory affair came to light, the Chantilly company had a contract with both Fairfax and Montgomery counties to cremate animals from their shelters. But when animals from both shelters — more than 250 total — were found dumped in a rural area of West Virginia, the contracts were canceled.
A company press release dated Feb. 3 stated that Family Pet Cremations considers pets "not just animals, [but] treasured family friends." It then shifted the blame to a "subcontractor" to its firm — someone who worked full time for Fairfax County's Animal Shelter and part time for the crematorium.
Attorney Bill Schewe, representing the business, gave further details that afternoon during a press conference outside its building. He said faulty equipment led to the unfortunate turn of events.
"When the crematorium's incinerator was out of service recently, it hired a subcontractor — [the person working both jobs] to dispose of the animals," said Schewe. "They were to be buried on a farm in Winchester properly, and the individual in question was paid [to take care of it]."
OBVIOUSLY, though, something went terribly wrong — and neither Family Pet Cremations, nor the employee, are out of the woods, yet. Indeed, both federal and state charges related to illegal animal dumping and/or improper disposal of hazardous waste may be levied once the various investigations are completed.
"As a department, we're as disturbed and concerned as everyone else," said Mulrenan. "That's certainly not what we contracted for. Since this broke [last Monday, Jan. 30], we haven't released any remains to them. We have a new contractor, as of Feb. 5."
She couldn't say how long Fairfax County's animal shelter — under the auspices of the police department — had done business with the Chantilly company because "the contract will be part of the investigation." However, she said, "We contracted for the pick up and appropriate and lawful disposal of animal remains by Family Pet Cremations. We're horrified [by the discovery] and are doing an internal investigation with regard to the contract."
As for the civilian employee who worked for both the shelter and the crematorium, Mulrenan said he, too, is being investigated and was placed on administrative leave, Feb. 1. And on Friday, Feb. 3, the Montgomery County Police Department also ended its contract with Family Pet Cremations.
According to a police department statement: "A police investigation of numerous animal carcasses that were illegally disposed of in West Virginia determined that at least one animal carcass was picked up from Montgomery County's Animal Shelter ... Because Pet Cremations Inc. disposed of animals in violation of applicable law, and because the illegal disposal of animals poses health and environmental risks, [the] contract is terminated for default."
In its own statement, the business stressed that, since 1999, it's worked hard to ensure that every animal entrusted to it is "handled in a dignified and respectful manner at all times while in our care." Regarding the animals found Jan. 30 in West Virginia, it stated that "absolutely no family pets brought to our facilities by individual patrons or veterinary clinics were involved in this incident."
But it couldn't make the same claim about animals it had received from shelters. Instead, the company stated it was "shocked and saddened to learn that a number of shelter animals briefly handled at our facility had been illegally and improperly disposed of in a wooded area near Capon Bridge, W. Va."
FAMILY PET Cremations further stated it deeply regretted the incident and has "dispatched professionals and equipment to the scene" to help with the cleanup and proper disposal of the animals. It also said it's cooperating with law-enforcement authorities and is reviewing its outsourcing policies and procedures "to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."