The carcasses of hundreds of pets from the Washington region have been dumped in a rural West Virginia town, and a Chantilly company that was paid to cremate the animals is the focus of an investigation, Fairfax County police said yesterday.
Investigators with West Virginia's Division of Natural Resources said about 250 animals -- dogs, cats, rabbits, raccoons, white-tailed deer, foxes, even an exotic bird -- were discovered Saturday morning by a woman walking on private residential property in Hampshire County, about 70 miles west of Dulles International Airport.
Officials said it appeared that no effort had been made to hide the animals, mostly dogs and cats, which were piled and left to rot. Some still had intravenous tubes attached.
"It was a morbid scene," said Lt. Harry Shaver, a spokesman for the law enforcement section of the Division of Natural Resources. The agency investigates the unlawful disposal of animal carcasses, which can be punished by fines and jail time. "It's not an uncommon occurrence in West Virginia for our agency to receive a complaint of refuse dumping and locate a dead animal. But something of this magnitude, with this number of animals, is unusual."
Investigators said they used collars and identification medallions to link the animals to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter and to facilities in several other jurisdictions in Northern Virginia. Officials declined to name any of the other locations.
Until the discovery, made near the town of Capon Bridge, Fairfax's animal shelter had a contract with Family Pet Cremations in Chantilly -- whose motto is "Your friend is our friend" -- to dispose of animals that had died or been euthanized, county officials said. The company also has been used by Montgomery County and by private veterinarians.
No one answered the phone yesterday at Family Pet Cremations, also known as Northern Virginia Funeral Services.
Fairfax officials said their contract with the company was canceled Sunday.
"They had a legal obligation to properly dispose of the animals, and it looks like they didn't do that," said Fairfax County police spokeswoman Mary Mulrenan. "As a police department, we're disturbed and concerned. It's a horrific finding." The police department oversees the animal shelter.
Officials with the Montgomery County Animal Services Division, which had used Family Pet Cremations for five years, said yesterday it also had canceled its contract. The discovery of the animals was first reported on WRC-TV (Channel 4).
Mulrenan said Fairfax County was conducting an audit of its contract with the company and an administrative inquiry into a Fairfax County Animal Shelter civilian employee who worked part time at Family Pet Cremations. The employee was put on administrative leave Wednesday, officials said.
Family Pet Cremations's Web site outlines its philosophy: "Our caring and compassionate staff are professionals. We treat your pet as if they were our own. Out of respect we follow the same strict cremation guidelines as funeral homes."
Yesterday, officials with the U.S. Forest Service said they were investigating a possible connection between the animals and a similar incident that occurred just before Christmas about 30 miles away in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. In that case, a visitor to the park found about 50 to 75 pets -- domesticated and strays as well as wild animals -- in a mound.
"It was pretty disgusting," said Woody Lipps, a patrol captain in charge of law enforcement for the national forests. "I think if you look at this remote corner of West Virginia and you have two sites like this, it would be highly unlikely that they're not linked."
Lipps said his department established a link between the animals found in the forest and the Fairfax County Animal Shelter last week, just before the discovery in Hampshire County.
"At this point, all I know is [the crematory] had a contractual agreement with Fairfax County to deal with these animals, and we know these animals were at one point in time dealt with by Fairfax," Lipps said. "What happened in between is what we're trying to figure out."