For many years, some dead Canadian dogs and cats have been made into animal feed. But queasy pet owners may take some comfort in knowing that renderers are getting out of the business.
Quebec rendering giant Sanimal Inc. recently told its suppliers -- including shelters across the province that put down pets -- that, bowing to consumer sensibilities, it will no longer accept domestic animals.
Mario Couture, Sanimal's vice-president of procurement, said his company has received about 100 letters in recent years expressing concern about the rendering of pets. "So it's only for that, probably, that dogs and cats are not going in the meat meal any more," he said.
Sanimal takes in all kinds of dead animals, most often livestock, from Quebec and elsewhere in Eastern Canada. Animal remains that can't otherwise be sold or eaten are transformed into commercial products -- mostly tallow and animal feed -- at its plants in Montreal and Quebec City.
Only the Quebec City plant rendered dogs and cats, Mr. Couture said, adding that the new measure reassured major pet-food-company clients who bought from Sanimal's Montreal operation.
"For them, it's a 'must' not to have any pets in their meat meal," Mr. Couture said. But, he added, there has traditionally been little concern about chickens and pigs eating the meal that contained parts of cats and dogs.
So, until a few weeks ago, tonnes of dead dogs and cats were picked up weekly around Quebec and taken to the rendering plant. It was a cheap service that shelters across Quebec say they are now struggling to replace.
The process of rendering dead pets is not widely talked about, and experts say it was far more common across North America a generation ago than it is today.
"It's crazy to even think about . . . rendering pets," said Humphry Koch, whose large rendering company, West Coast Reduction, does not handle domestic animals. "It's a crazy thing to even want to do."
A representative for Rothsay, another large Canadian renderer, said the company has not handled domestic animals for more than 15 years. Valérie Charbonneau, who works at an animal-protection agency in the Eastern Townships, said it was not inhumane for her shelter to send 5,000 animals annually to renderers.
"We thought about this in a group and asked a question: Does it correspond to our philosophy or not?" Ms. Charbonneau said. "We don't see any problems because the animals are already dead. . . . it's not like exploitation.
"And also it was the less expensive solution."
She points out that her shelter is now using landfills, which she estimates costs eight times as much as the $2,000 annual cost of sending the animals to renderers.
It's not the first time Sanimal and other companies have changed their processes to appease customers. Several years ago, to comply with laws designed to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad-cow disease, renderers across North America put in processes and labelling schemes to ensure that bits of cow are not fed to other cows. The disease is thought to have spread in Britain through such practices.
This April, because of heightened consumer worries, Sanimal banned the rendering of domestic animals and other animals that had been picked up as road kill.