ASHLAND, Ohio- In the middle of a six-acre Mansfield pet cemetery, Shelley McCartney stands in the cold with tears in her eyes as she clutches a small wooden box holding the cremated remains of her beloved dog, Chance.
"I'm sorry they threw you in a dumpster," said McCartney, trying not to sob. "You are not trash; you are mommy's baby."
McCartney of Ashland says her dog became too sick to live. The painful decision to put down the 8-year-old German Shepherd was magnified by a law she says many pet owners likely know nothing about.
According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, it is legal to dispose of non-diseased pets in the dumpster. It's something Shelley says she did not realize would happen, until it was too late. McCartney shared her story hoping it would be a catalyst for change.
"Talking about him makes me happy," said McCartney. "I just light up, but at the same time I miss him terribly. He filled my life."
After Chance was euthanized at the Claremont Veterinary Clinic in Ashland, McCartney says she had little options. Unable to pay for the cost of cremation that October day, and physically incapable of lifting Chance, he was left behind. McCartney says she was told her dog's remains would be thrown in the trash.
"I called and asked if he was still there -- this was on Friday; they said, 'Yeah, trash pickup isn't until Tuesday,'" said a tearful McCartney, recounting her call with the clinic. "So I said, 'I'm coming to get him; he doesn't belong in the dumpster.'"
After getting help from family to dig through the trash to recover Chance, McCartney says she paid for his cremation from a separate business in Mansfield a short while later.
FOX 8 confirmed McCartney's claims with Dr. Donald Kaeser with the Ashland vet clinic, who invited crews to meet outside his home.
"I don't have a place to put these animals or keep these animals for them so that's why we have to take some of them to the landfill," said Dr. Kaeser.
The doctor says his clinic, in existence for more than 50 years, often uses landfills to dispose of pets anywhere from one to four times a week, but adds, he always hopes that the animals can go home for their final resting place.
"Me and my dad have been in business for 40 years, only one other time we've ever heard of this situation," said Nick Eaton, owner of Angel Refuge Pet Cemetery & Crematory in Mansfield.
The crematory handles vet hospitals and clinics in both the Cleveland and Columbus area. They helped McCartney cremate Chance.
Founder Tom Nicastro says it's a "shock" to learn this happened; however, he says pet owners need to make plans ahead of their pet's death.
"It's a very hard thing for a family to go through, it's-- look-- they're losing a member of their family," said Nicastro. "...It's the pet owner's responsibility to do a little research. Find out who is going to be treating your pet and handling them."
Animal law attorney, DanaMarie Pannella, of Holland & Muirden says discarding deceased pets in dumpsters is a common practice many business and shelters don't like to admit.
"I think it's an uncomfortable topic to talk about -- how we dispose of pets-- which many of us consider to be family members," said Pannella. "It's uncomfortable to think about the fact that some of those family members end up at landfills."
Pannella says it's been her mission to protect pets and explains Ohio pet owners may find other parts of the same law troublesome.
"Under the same law it's actually legal to dispose of animals as raw rendering material," said Pannella. "What that means is that it's meat unfit for human consumption, and that material is legally allowed to be sold to dog kennels and pet food manufacturing facilities, so essentially your dog and cat could be eating euthanized dogs and cats."
For McCartney, when it comes Chance, she says all pet owners need to know more about state laws and push for changes before they are forced to say goodbye to their companions.
"Maybe some good will come out of this," said McCartney, still holding tight to his ashes. "Bye, Chance; I'll see you again someday."