Dead Dog Day Afternoon

Phoenix company has the scoop on road kill

Paul Peaty rolls up to the scene in his white pickup truck. The victim lies lifeless on the side of the road. Hit and run.

"That's a nice one," Peaty deadpans.
He gets out of the truck, and, even upwind of the carnage, the putrid stench is thick. It's only 9 o'clock in the morning, but the sun has had enough time to overcook the canine's dead flesh.

Peaty goes to the back of his truck and produces a pair of thick rubber gloves, a heavy plastic bag and some safety cones. He sets the cones out behind the truck so distracted motorists rushing to work don't plow into him.

The large, black male chow has been turned inside out from the force of the impact. As Peaty lifts the stiff dog up by the legs, pink entrails stream out of the exposed belly and stick to the pavement. He drops the whole mess into the bag, ties it shut, and puts the plastic coffin into the bed of his truck. Peaty cleans the bloody spot with a water-and-bleach mix that kills bacteria.

He radios the location, time and a description of the animal back to base. Peaty's communication ends on a familiar note:

"No tags, no collar."
Another Dog Doe.
The information is entered into a computer at the headquarters of First and Last Pest Management, the company that the City of Phoenix pays about $12,000 a month to keep the streets carcass-free. The company also has a contract with the City of Mesa and hopes to eventually expand to other cities.

Robin Calhoun, dispatcher and secretary, is the central nervous system for First and Last. Besides keeping the computer records, she takes calls from the public and police and tells the crew where the dead animals wait to be scooped.

Calhoun is also responsible for calling the families of the victims.
"It sucks, it's awful," she says. "A lot of times they go crazy. They're hysterical and crying. I just try and break it to them as easy as I can."

Her job is made more difficult because the majority of the animals are not properly identified. General manager John Weiler estimates that less than 10 percent of the pets they find have collars and tags.

First and Last provides a variety of services to various clients--general pest control, trapping, removal and relocation of nuisance wildlife, and spraying manholes with insecticidal paint to protect against sewer roaches.

But the DAC (dead animal collection) is by far the most publicly valuable--and disgusting--aspect of First and Last's repertoire.

"If someone wasn't doing it, it could get real ugly, real fast," says Weiler.

As the DAC supervisor, Peaty is in charge of the crew patrolling the streets of Phoenix. Since First and Last was hired by Phoenix in February, it has collected 2,408 animals. Peaty alone has picked up and disposed of 1,121 of them.

The DAC shift runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Besides being grueling, the job is also depressing. The burnout rate is high among employees, but Peaty seems to embrace the work. He rarely takes a day off, and even when he does, he stays on-call.

"My guys know that if I have a day off, they can call if they need my help," Peaty says. "My attitude is, I'm not going to ask them to do something that I'm not willing to do myself."

DAC workers are paid $60 a day for their services. New employees ride along with Peaty for a few days so they can learn how to handle the job. Peaty says that most of the new guys are shaken at first and usually go home and hug their pets for hours.

"It takes a special breed to do this job," says Peaty. "DAC is not for everybody."

Peaty is stuck in an odd position. He admits that his job is not the greatest in the world, but he takes pride in his work and excels at it. Peaty says his grandfather taught him that the sooner a job is done, the sooner you get to go home. That advice helps him deal with handling corpses all day.

Like morticians, cops and others with unpleasant jobs, the DAC crew also has adopted its own brand of dark humor.

"Ever seen a blue-eyed German shepherd?" Peaty asks. "One eye blew this way; one eye blew that way."

Some might find it morbid and disturbing, but Peaty says the jokes help break the monotony and maintain his sanity. He has three dogs of his own, and his love for animals allows him to deal compassionately with distraught pet owners.

On one occasion, Peaty had to remove a drowned dog from a woman's pool. After the incident, the woman wrote a letter thanking Peaty for his kindness and compassion in handling the situation.

In his three months on the job, Peaty is already a grizzled veteran. He's picked up everything from a rat to a slaughtered cow. While the stench has caused him to vomit a few times, he's reached the point that it doesn't bother him anymore. However, Peaty's appetite has been affected.

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