Corpses of people’s beloved pets were found undecomposed, still cold from having been in a fridge or cooling system, and scattered along a dry and secluded area in Donkerhoek Road, Rustenburg. The majority of them were wrapped in black plastic rubbish bags, but some were simply dumped naked and exposed. The animals – 25 dogs of different breeds, and one cat – showed signs of medical intervention. Patches of fur on their extremities had been shaved off. Many had visible signs of severe injuries. A pair of medical gloves were found and a few medical waste supplies stuffed amongst the bodies.
Some speculated an animal serial killer was on the loose, or perhaps a dog fighting ring was involved. But further investigation has now put a well-known vet’s head on the chopping block. The grisly discovery has raised the question – what really happens to the bodies of our beloved pets after they’ve crossed the rainbow bridge?
Rustenburg SPCA were horrified when they were called to the scene. Inspectors carefully combed the area for clues before gathering up the bodies and taking them for further tests, including autopsies. What was established was that the majority of the animals found had been euthanised. Photographs of the dead animals published on social media platforms led the SPCA to several pet owners who claimed they had taken their animals two or three weeks ago to a well-known vet in the area.
One owner explained their Pitbull (who was microchipped) was riddled with cancer and they had no other options but to put the dog to sleep, as was the similar case with a 17-year-old Dachshund who had become ill from age. Another, a Yorkie owner, said their elderly pet had suffered with severe ear infections for two years and, with a heavy heart, they decided it was time to let the dog go. They insisted their pet be cremated in the doggie jersey it was wearing. Another, the owner of a Labrador, said when their dog broke its leg they thought it wasn’t life threatening but the vet told them surgery, or even amputation, was not an option, and insisted on euthanasia.
It wasn’t long before the SPCA had enough information to link the corpses to a vet who operates in the area. The vet, the name of whom is in possession of People magazine, is believed to be close to retirement age and one of the cheapest vets in the area. According to the owners of the deceased animals, they had paid the vet to cremate their pets. It’s understood cremation fee differs depending on the animal’s breed but the vet allegedly charged about R450 – a far cry from the normal fee other vets charge for cremation (usually around R700). Many of the owners said they paid the vet the fee in cash and were not issued with a receipt.
Pet cremation has grown exponentially in South Africa. Losing a pet can be extremely traumatic and many people want their pets handled with dignity, integrity, respect and compassion after their death, and not simply disposed of like additional general or hazardous waste. When pet owners choose cremation, the animal is taken to a licenced disposal facility. The owner of the Yorkie whose body was found dumped said they insisted their little one be cremated wearing its doggie jersey. The jersey, however, was not on the dog when it was found.
There are very strict laws when it comes to cremation of deceased pets. In a nutshell, upon the veterinarian or the owner’s instructions, deceased animals are collected by the company involved and taken to the crematorium. The owner can choose to have the animal cremated communally, (together with other animals), after which the ashes are scattered in a communal plot or garden on the companies premises. Alternatively the animal can be cremated individually, with the ashes then being returned in a small wooden casket or cardboard casket. Another option is to have the casket interred in a cemetery, also on the company premises, with a range of tombstones from which to choose. If an owner does not opt for cremation, the animal’s body will be taken to a municipal dumping area. A lot of animal shelters and vets use municipal dump areas to dispose of animals as cremation can be costly. Disposing of the animals on landfills is also necessary because of a lack of incinerators.
The vet behind Rustenburg’s furore agreed to speak briefly to People magazine this morning. Calmly he explained that he had recently started using a private person to transport the animals’ bodies to the municipal dumping site where ‘a hole has been made for all vets and SPCAs that you put the animals into’. He alleges the owners of the pets (his clients) did not pay a cremation fee, but rather a euthanasia and ‘disposal fee’. When asked if he had clearly explained what a ‘disposal’ meant, he said that he has contacted a legal entity to handle all queries and was told not to speak to anyone about the case.
The entity was contacted by People shortly after the conversation with the vet in question and we were told the matter could not be discussed until the investigation was complete but that it was common knowledge that the municipal dump was used by a lot of vets and shelters in the area, and that the Rustenburg SPCA would have had no difficulty establishing this.
The entity also questioned why the SPCA was appealing for funds from the public to ‘assist with the investigation’ when they already knew the story behind this case and in fact, used the same municipal dumping ground for their deceased animals as the vet in question. The entity was referring to an appeal posted by the Rustenburg SPCA that reads: ‘We need funds for post-mortems, cremation, and mortuary fees. We are already strained just to feed and medicate animals in cages’.
If, said the entity, it is the case that the SPCA use the municipal dumping ground, then why would cremation and mortuary fees even apply?
SPCA Rustenburg explained the SPCA gets no subsidy from Government and that feeding and medical bills of animals in cages are already a struggle. “We need funding to investigate properly. We not using this to line our own pockets. Currently the Rustenburg SPCA is in desperate needs of general funding, never mind this added.”
Sadly, this is not the first case of its kind in South Africa. In 2000, the sight of more than 100 dead dogs left in a pit at the municipal dump in Sutherland, Northern Cape, angered the town’s residents. The dogs – strays and others that did not have licences – were put down by the Worcester SPCA at the request of the Sutherland municipality.
In 2009 photos of the driver of a white Nissan bakkie belonging to an SPCA went viral. He was seen literally throwing animals onto the Randfontein landfill site west of Joburg. In 2011 a distraught Lichtenburg woman discovered her beloved Labrador’s body in an animal dump, after paying a local company to give the dog a ‘dignified burial’. She paid a local company R91 to bury her pet. The dog died after he was presumably poisoned. Last year, a Sandton resident was caught on video dumping his dog on the street and driving away. The man – who worked as the head of litigation at a Sandton-based law firm – said he couldn’t find a vet to dispose of the dog so he simply dumped its body.