For the past three years, local veterinarians have paid several hundred dollars a year for the city to pick up the bodies of euthanized pets and take them to McKamey Animal Center for cremation.
That's the practice those doctors have described to their customers who can't afford to pay for the service with a private company and don't want to bury a pet in their backyard.
But the veterinarians didn't realize the city had stopped delivering the dead pets to McKamey more than a month ago and was instead dumping the bodies in the city landfill, said Ann Ball, the chairwoman of McKamey's governing board.
"No one has notified us," said Dr. Jim Hammon, co-owner of Northgate Animal Hospital. "I would have thought we would be the first to know."
Ball said McKamey was never alerted to the changes either.
Chattanooga's Public Works Department had had an agreement since 2010 with the animal center, which contracts with the city for animal control services. About seven veterinary hospitals or clinics pay a quarterly fee of $208 for city pick-up service. The city keeps 10 percent and gives McKamey the rest in quarterly sums.
In 2013, the public works department picked up nearly 500 dead animals from the area hospitals and 960 dead animals upon calls for service. McKamey officials said the center was paid about $3,000.
But Ball said after sending the city the quarterly bill at the end of the year, the trucks stopped coming. She said city officials explained that cremation was not a necessary service and the city was losing money on it.
"We were very surprised to hear it," Ball said. "It's not a huge amount of money and it is upsetting that this system has gone back to the dump process."
City spokeswoman Lacie Stone said the recommendation to cut the service came from public works and its director, Lee Norris, to cut the city's costs.
"This is a business decision by the veterinary clinics to use the city for collections at a lower cost or they could contact McKamey directly to have the animals cremated," Stone wrote in an email.
But Hammon said the hospitals were paying a flat rate to the city for the services and he doesn't know whether the fee will change now that the public works department has reverted to burying the animals in the landfill.
After questions from McKamey and reporters this week, Public Works Deputy Administrator Justin Holland said Wednesday evening that the department realizes they overlooked telling everyone affected about the changes.
"We apologize deeply that we made those changes without involving the stakeholders," Holland said.
Holland said public works officials plan to sit down this week with McKamey and the area hospitals and clinics affected to talk about a solution.
Ball said she doesn't understand why the city would stop sending the animals to McKamey without first alerting the animal service or the hospitals and clinics.
"We were completely unaware that this decision was even a consideration from the city," Ball wrote in a letter to veterinarians who had paid for the city service.
Dr. Kevin Ade, a veterinarian at Middle Valley Animal Hospital, said he learned about the changes Wednesday through Ball's letter.
He said he will have someone on his staff take bodies to McKamey several times a week so no one's pet goes to the landfill. McKamey will charge the hospital the same fee as the city did.
"I wouldn't like my own dog or cat going to the landfill. It's just a negative connotation," Ade said. "It feels terrible to me."
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-665.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...