Catching Up With the Roadkill Cleanup Crew

By J.D. Watson | Aug 21, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Ocean County — We’ve all seen it. There, on the side of the road, maybe off in the weeds and tall grasses growing just off the pavement on a desolate road somewhere out in the pines. Or maybe on a neighborhood street. Or on busy stretches of Routes 9 or 72. But there it is, the lifeless carcass of some animal that had been hit by a car – stretched out, eyes clouded over, limbs sometime splayed at awkward angles.

For many who drive the same route day after day, they recognize the same carcass and notice how nature will do what it does: flies swarming, buzzards and vultures gathering to feed. But one day, the carcass will be gone. There are not enough scavengers in New Jersey to accomplish that. How does the removal happen and who’s responsible?

Like much in today’s life, the answers to questions such as these may be complicated.

Dead animals on any road should be reported to the local municipality, which usually reports it to the local animal control officer for timely removal, according to Kelly Winthrop, who owns an eponymous waste removal business. If the animal’s body is on a county or state road, the appropriate government body is contacted to schedule removal.

Also, the local government may pass on the removal from a local road if the carcass is too large for the animal control officer to handle appropriately.

“We cover four counties: Monmouth, Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic,” Winthrop said. She said their crews leave the yard in Browns Mills early every day and are able to respond to any removal request quickly.

Removals on state roads can be more problematic. A deer carcass had lain at the side of the road on Route 9 in Barnegat for almost three weeks recently before the body was removed. Repeated calls to the state Department of Transportation went unreturned. Winthrop said it wasn’t always the way.

“The state used to contract with removal companies,” she said. Her business held one of those state contracts beginning in 2003, until budget concerns prompted the state to use in-house crews for the removals starting in 2006. Winthrop explained it is not uncommon – and frustrating – to have her crews drive along state roads and see animal carcasses on the side of the road while on the way to pick up a carcass elsewhere in the county.

Winthrop said most of her referrals come from county offices.

Winthrop declined to have a reporter or a photographer ride along with her crew – or even to shadow behind them – due to insurance regulations.

“I’ve had people approach me to do a reality TV show,” she explained. “But reality TV is never about reality. They wanted to have someone ride along with us who just couldn’t stand the smell, you know.

“It’s just not what we do.”

Central New Jersey is probably the busiest area in the state for dead animal body removal. “Central Jersey has more deer hit. South Jersey may have more deer but they also have much less cars.”

While most of the carcasses are what would be expected – squirrels and chipmunks, cats, dogs, skunks, opossum, raccoons and deer – she did remember a more unexpected, if not exactly exotic, animal. “There was a sheep, once,” she recalled.

Winthrop said her crews dispose of the animal carcasses at a dumpsite in Burlington County.

— J.D. Watson

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