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Fall 2010

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

October 5, 2010

An animal’s final escort

Lonnie Wade Jr.

Lonnie Wade Jr. was born and raised in the District.
His father, formerly a South Carolina farmer, "brought the farm to the city," says Wade, who grew up in the NoMa/Sursum Corda neighborhood, tending
hogs, rabbits, chickens
and pigeons. The family even had a smokehouse.

Fall weather yields fewer calls for Lonnie Wade Jr., and the cooler air gives him an extended grace period, but before his targets get too rank, he must thread his orange truck through city streets in response to requests for dead animal pickup.

Wade, 56, was a furniture mover for 30 years before he took a pay cut just so he could have the job. That was six years ago.

It's a good fit for Wade. He has had a lifetime of experience with animals and wants to be of service. "I have a lot of love for my work," he says, "and have no intention of changing jobs."

Wade often knocks on the doors of the addresses that called in the request, either to get help in locating the animal or to acknowledge that he has picked up a beloved pet that someone has boxed or bagged and placed at the curb.

"I will sit and pray with people who are in pain over the loss of their loved ones," he says. "Sometimes that dog or cat was all they had."

Wade also has compassion for the numerous fly-covered rats he removes from behind dumpsters, under cars or out of the gutter. "They were just trying to live their lives like the rest of us," he says. "I feel for them."

Wade has picked up the remains of foxes, snakes, opossums, raccoons, birds, deer -- even a tiny pet goldfish. On rare occasions, he'll deliver an animal's corpse to the morgue for a police investigation.

Skip the following paragraph if you're squeamish:

During the warm months, flies always seem to get to the animal first, and the carcass may be alive with maggots by the time Wade is on the scene. If body fluids have leaked out onto the sidewalk or street, Wade sanitizes the stains with bleach. "We don't want children touching that, or dogs licking it," he says. Wade scoops up most carcasses with a pitchfork, but he has shovels, a broom and white coveralls for bigger jobs, such as deer.

Deer frequently get hit by cars, but fences take their toll. "Sometimes a deer will stick its head through the bars of an iron fence, the rest of it can't squeeze through, and then its head gets stuck," says Wade. More gruesome are the failed attempts of deer trying to leap over spiked or barbed-wire fences.

Sources: D.C. Department of Public Works; Nancee Lyons, DPW

Map by Dan Keating and M.K. Cannistra/The Washington Post

The pickup truck

The Department of Public Works operates two trucks to transport animal carcasses, which are collected from public property, placed in sanitized barrels, refrigerated during transit and frozen at day's end. A private contractor cremates the remains.

The dead animal pickup vehicle

Carcass calls

It's difficult to pin down why some parts of the city generate more requests for dead animal pickup than do others. People who are more closely connected to their neighborhoods may be more likely to notice a carcass and call it in.

Wade suggests that vehicular traffic may kill a lot of animals traveling between wooded areas. He notes that in some spots "people are sloppy with their cleaning," and strewn garbage attracts raccoons and rats. Certain restaurants and student group houses are notorious for that, he says.

"And anywhere there's construction," says Wade, "you find a lot of dead animals [nearby]. It stirs them up."

Frequency of calls for dead animal pick in D.C. for 2009