What happens when they die?

While at the last dog show in January with Ike, I splurged a little and bought some reading material (which was a long overdue purchase). My latest read, “Food Pets Die For” by Ann Martin http://www.amazon.com/Food-Pets-Die-Shocking-Facts/dp/0939165317

It’s a worthy read, and indeed shocking. Swine waste, horses, rancid restaurant fryer grease, and sawdust are often used as ingredients in commercial kibbles. That wasn’t the shocking part for me. I’ve known this this for as long as I can remember. That probably started when I got caught eating out of the Alpo cans as a toddler or snacking on Kibbles n’ Bits in the early 80’s and my mom would snatch it away from me, saying, “Don’t you know that’s all horse meat? There’s all kinds of garbage in there.” And it was horse meat, but apparently OK for Fritz and Barney our Schnauzers. Grandma used to tell me how after the war, there was a surplus of horses and everyone in the rural farming communities our family lived in knew that’s where unwanted horses went, to dog food and “victory war steaks”.

Heck, when I was a student in Montana, a close friend who worked at the same Vet clinic as I had an entire herd of “canners.” Canners were horses that were bought cheaply at auction or had become lame or too old to work, and then fattened on good grazing for a few wonderful and peaceful months, only to be sent straight to the rendering plant in the fall for a handsome price, to be sold for pet food or prepared as human edibles overseas. Young and old, all destined for slaughter.

By the way, a horse auction is possibly one of the saddest experiences with farm animals I have ever had. It invoked the childhood memories of reading “Black Beauty”, and the gut wrenching feeling people should have when seeing an innocent creature suffer. Many of the horses are beyond terrified, fresh off the race track as failures, and many are simply too old, broken spirited and used up to care much about anything.

These are the horses that the brokers in the front rows of the auction barn keep an eye out for. They want the ones that don’t sell, that won’t ever get a good shot at an idyllic retirement in a grassy field like Black Beauty, so they are discretely purchased at the end of the auction for a very cheap price to fatten and sell for meat, or directly sent to the render. Perhaps the auction house isn’t that bad, the Game Farm in my area encourages people to send their unwanted horses to where they are shot and then fed to the big cats, bears and wolves.

Most people don’t realize that renders also process dog food, or sell their rendered product to a dog food company as ingredients (including horse meat which is listed as “meat by product” or “meat meal” usually). The shocking part for me was reading the reports that the majority of pet owners don’t know what happens to their companion pets when they die. Sure, we say they go to the Rainbow Bridge, but where do their bodies end up? I was surprised that of all the Veterinary staff Ann Martin interviewed, the vast majority also reported NOT to know what happens to euthanized pet animal remains if the owners do not opt for cremation or private burial.

We called them Kirby Specials where I part time at. Dr. Kirby was an old timey vet and didn’t do anything fancy and the pets were given a general disposal, that is to say, nothing fancy. No cremation, no solemn burial, no big send off. Nope, they were injected with euthanasia solution and sent straight to the rendering plant inside a garbage bag after spending a night or two in the freezer, to be rendered into “meat meal” and “byproducts” that people would then in turn feed to their pets. I knew this, especially after growing up on a farm and working in the pet care industry. Seriously, what do people honestly think happens to all the euthanized animals in the US? Thousands upon thousands of them.

I guess one big point I gleaned from all of this is to shepherd your pet to the very end. Feed them wholesome food, protect them from fear and harm. For me, that final act of shepherding my pet companion means hand carrying my deceased frineds to the pet crematory and cemetery, wrapped in their little blankies, and being the last person to touch them and send them off to the Rainbow Bridge. Someday, I know I will see them again, but it isn’t going to be from inside a bag of dog food.

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