By Elizabeth White
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It's a common sight on Cape Cod public highways: the body of some unfortunate critter
in the middle of the road. Usually by the next day it's gone, whisked off to some unknown
place. Uncertainly surrounds how best to take care of road kill, and towns differ in their
Sitting in her navy blue police uniform, Sheryl Malone explains that she loves animals.
Malone is the Dennis animal control officer. Part of her job is to pick up domestic pets that
have been hit by cars. Wild animals are picked up by the highway department. Anything
smaller than a squirrel, Malone says, is left for the bigger animals to eat.
: "If I see a squirrel or a chipmunk or something like that, if I can, I'll
and move them to the side of the road, just to give them a little dignity. And also to
prevent scavengers from going into the road to pick up that road kill and then they get
whacked. So the skunks, the crows, the coyotes, the raccoons that scavenge those
animals, I feel that by moving them to the side of the road they're at least returned to
nature and do someone some good."
In the past, animals picked up by the town were buried in the town's landfill.
: "We had our own little burial ground, a little cemetery. But when
the transfer station came along and the dump was capped, we're no longer allowed to
bury just every animal down there anymore."
Malone makes every effort to find the deceased pet's owner and return the body to
But eventually, if unsuccessful, she must dispose of it in the town's trash
: "It bothers me that I can't have a little animal cemetery for the
thirty or forty animals I get a year, and almost all of them are cats. Ah, and I think it would
not be a problem with pollution, but whatever government entity has decided that you
can't do that, even in that same amount, necessitates what we have to do with them,
which is a lot less pleasant."
Malone's spoken with employees of other towns who choose to ignore this distant
: "And I'll say how do you get away with burying them because
we're not supposed to do that anymore? Nobody really seems to know who said that, or
why, or who to talk to about it, so it's kinda been an unanswered question for a number
years now. So every town just does whatever it can to get the job done as neatly and
quietly as possible, and not have anybody come down and say, 'you can't do that
Two decades ago, the Department of Environmental Protection ruled that no more
refuse, animal or otherwise, was to go in the ground. At that time, all the towns on the
Cape had to switch from landfills to transfer stations, where trash is then carted away for
incineration at the SeaMast waste facility up 495. However, the Board of Health also
states that any animal suspected of infection with rabies should be buried three feet
below ground. Bob Canning, a health agent in the town Orleans for twenty-two years,
says conflicting regulations have left towns with no clear disposal procedure.
: "So trying to juggle the interests of public health, the requirements
of the state, it's very difficult to make a determination as to how to dispose of the road
Orleans treats every animal found dead as a potential source of rabies. So the town
chooses to bury all animals pick up off its public roads. Canning says putting animals in
the trash compactor creates a health risk for transfer station employees.
: "We don't want an animal to go in, have it pushed through the
compacter, have the container it's in be compromised in anyway, then have the landfill
employee kind of blindly pushing the trash in a trailer so they can close the door for
transportation, and be exposed to the animal itself."
The odds aren't very high, but an employee could potentially be snagged by a tooth or
: "Here it is, this where we bury them."
Transfer station mechanic, Rick McKean, points to an uncapped parcel of land in the
back corner of the Orleans landfill. The small declivity doesn't look much like a cemetary:
the graves are unmarked and bits of trash are caught in a few fallen tree limb. The Mid-
Cape highway hums just out of sight beyond the ridge. The former burial site, like the
rest of the landfill, is now covered with plastic. McKean remembers that years ago a
whale was even buried there.
: "Back in the olds days, I'm sure they buried their horses and
cows, and everything else. But we're not really equipped to that now. And I don't think
many residents have cows or livestock that need to be buried. In many cases they just do
that on their own property."
The Orleans health department stresses the plot is only a short-term solution. Long-term
solutions could include the services of companies like Angle View in Middleboro. The
company rents portable freezers where the animals can be stored and then shipped off-
Cape for cremation by trained professionals. Residents may still bury their cats and dogs
in the back yard.
If you see a dead cat or dog on the road, contact your town's animal control officer.
Wild animals should be reported to the town's health department.
Broadcast April 20, 2006
Elizabeth White reports for the Cape and Islands NPR Stations.