Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dead Dog Treated Like Dead Dog

In death, service dog treated as roadkill
Linda Goldston, Mercury News

It was bad enough for Richard Gambord to learn that his missing service dog was killed a short time after he crashed his van and the dog ran off.

Then, he learned that the golden retriever's battered body had already been disposed of - mixed in with roadkill and grease at a San Jose rendering plant.

"It's just so sickening," Gambord said. "They took this esteemed and loved dog and hauled him away like he was roadkill. It makes me sick."

A Caltrans worker took Quinn's remains to San Jose Tallow the same night he was killed - a violation of Caltrans policy, a Caltrans spokeswoman said.

To Gambord of Los Gatos and the college student who spent more than a year training him, Quinn was treated with no more respect than motorists show squashed squirrels.

Brigetta Smith, public information officer for Caltrans confirmed that the dog was taken there even though it violated the department's procedure. Road crews are supposed to take the body of a dog or cat to an animal shelter so it can be scanned for an ID chip - and the owner can be notified, she said.

In this case, Gambord and others searched for a week for the dog that was wearing a collar and a purple cape with the logo for Assistance Dog Institute.

Based in Santa Rosa, the institute places nine to 15 assistance dogs each year and there is always a waiting list. Quinn was placed with Gambord, who has multiple sclerosis, three weeks ago, and the dog already had helped Gambord take a few steps without fear of falling.

"We certainly didn't want it to end this way," said Jorjan Powers, community and public relations director for the institute. "It's just an unhappy ending no matter how you look at it."

Smith said Caltrans is reviewing its procedures "to make sure this doesn't happen again."

A California Highway Patrol officer who removed the dog's body from the roadway told Caltrans the dog was wearing a collar and its purple uniform. The Caltrans worker who picked up Quinn, however, said he did not see the cape or the collar.

"I've asked our guys to review the agreement we have with the rendering plant to make sure they won't accept domestic animals from us," Smith said. "There should be safeguards on both ends."

Gambord and Quinn were returning home from an outing Aug. 12 when Gambord said he heard his dog choking in the back of the van. The next thing he knew he had crashed into some bushes on the Interstate 280-880 interchange in San Jose. The van's door flew open and Quinn bolted out about 1 a.m. Authorities think the dog was hit by a car about an hour later.

"He kept getting hit so the CHP ran a traffic break so Caltrans could pick him up," Smith said. "We picked him up about 2 a.m. right at northbound 280 to northbound 880."

Smith said Caltrans used to take all dead animals it removed from roadways in the South Bay to the rendering plant, but it changed its procedure two years ago to take only wild animals.

Caltrans used to have a contract with the humane society that allowed them to drop off the dead bodies of cats or dogs that had been killed on a freeway or expressway, but "Caltrans chose not to renew it," said Chris Benninger, executive director of Humane Society Silicon Valley.

Peggy Leyba of San Jose Tallow said the manager could not be reached Monday. Commonly, the dead animals taken to tallow plants are boiled down to oil that goes into a range of products, including fertilizer, soap and stock feed.

"They do accept dead dogs," Leyba said, but she had no information about the products produced.

Powers said the staff of the institute plans to hold a memorial for Quinn, and meet to discuss what happened. "We plan to meet and see if there isn't some good that can come out of this tragedy."

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