TAZEWELL COUNTY - Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Tazewell County is accused of deceiving its clients, giving them ashes that might not be from their pets. The investigation began after three animals were found decomposing in a freezer outside.
It's left many in the animal-loving community in shock, reopening old wounds for those who thought their loved ones were resting in peace in their homes.
Richie Rich made the discovery while he was searching for a lost dog in South Pekin.
"We were out there searching for a dog named Cosmo, a great dane," says Rich. "When we were making our rounds, close to a pumpkin field where she was last seen, and Kayla noticed some standing water of the cemetery."
Rich is a volunteer with TRAP, which stands for Trap and Recover Animals in Peoria. He says, once a domesticated dog is in the wild, it needs three things: water, shelter, and food.
"We pulled in to check for paw prints, didn't see anything, we're immediately met with the smell of what we thought at the time was roadkill, so that's when we decided, being the number two thing a dog needs is food, search around the building. There was a chest freezer outside, along the side of the building that, the closer we got to it, the stronger the smell."
Tazewell County Chief Deputy Jeffrey Lower says, "There were three animals inside it that had been there for some time. In fact, that's how the search warrant on the 21st started. One of those animals had a microchip in the animal. We were able to identify the owner and that owner received ashes."
The microchipped animal, a cat, was said to have been cremated in 2013 by Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory. But, the three animals found were only the beginning.
"Fifteen down there and ten more in another freezer and we have twelve of them," says Lower. "That will be sorted out. We only took possession of those that had the microchip in them and the rest of them there's just no way for us to identify."
Lower says the oldest animal identified was said to have been cremated in 2001.
"What he was doing, as far as how he was managing was not illegal, as far as the disposal process that he was going through," says Lower. "He wasn't doing anything wrong there. The only part that was illegal was representing ashes of an animal that was not truly that animal."
Rich adds, "There came a point where doing the right thing didn't feel like doing the right thing, even though we were preventing a lot of hurt in the future. I just hate for those families to have to relive the loss of their animal and question whether they've got their remains of their animal."
The criminal investigation into Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory is closed because the owner, Joe Abts, committed suicide. That means anyone seeking restitution would have to file a civil complaint.
A WMBD investigation found that pet crematories are not regulated, other than when the crematory is installed; that's when the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is on Site. Local pet crematories we spoke with say, if you're considering services, the best thing you can do is ask questions and ask for references, both from veterinarians and customers.
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