Dead on the Road – What to Do When You Hit an Animal

It is easy to do the wrong thing when you have hit an animal, that is to say leaving it and pretending you didn’t notice. But in the end, doing the right thing will help ease somebody else’s grief and give you peace of mind.

Not a pleasant thing to think about, but chances are it will happen, and it is best to know what to do BEFORE it does happen. I have written this with a general approach in mind, laws are different everywhere, so before it happens to you, there may be some laws you want to inquire about in your area.

Your Own Pet

Emotionally this may be the worst scenario to deal with. Physically, what you have to do is remove the animals’ body from the road. In most places it is illegal to dispose of a dead pet in the garbage. Some cities have a special place in the garbage dump for dead animals, so if that is how you want to dispose of your pet, you need to call and ask them how to do this. Many cities now have places that will cremate your pet, a veterinarian would know if this is available in your area and give you the information on this. Some cities also have pet cemeteries, again a vet will know where these are.

A lot of people, particularly in the country, bury their pets. You really should consider the laws in your area regarding this. Find out BEFORE you need to, if it is legal to bury animals on your property.

Emotionally you have a very hard thing to deal with, telling your family. Be honest with your children, lying to them that the pet “ran away” or was “given to a farm” is going to open up a can of worms. Not only is it unfair to them, as they are not given the opportunity to say “good bye” but also you have cheated them out of a life lesson. Most children first experience death, because of a pet dying – this is much less harsh than they having their first experience being a parent, or sibling. If you lie to your kids, and they find out, they may not trust you again.

Finally, do not be in a hurry to replace the pet. First fix the problem of how it got out onto the road. A better fence for your dog, or a cat section for your cat.

Your Neighbor’s Pet

Remove the pet from the road, and attempt to contact the owner. This is a hard thing to do depending on how well you know the neighbor. Ultimately the pet should not have been on the road, it should have been indoors or in their yard, but you cannot tell them this. You can only hope they realize it for themselves and are not going to yell at you.
Offer to pay half their disposal costs – assuming the costs are reasonable, phone to find out how much cremation, for example, is in your area. Make it clear that you are sorry, but are not going to be responsible for replacing their pet, especially if this one was not being looked after and allowed to be running loose. They will be grieving and might not want a new pet right away either.

The best thing here is honesty, and remembering that while you are not solely to blame, yelling at them or putting all the blame on them, will result in an unfriendly relationship with them down the line.

If the pet is injured and not dead, you should offer to pay part of the veterinarian cost within reason, and save all receipts to prove you did.

An Unknown Pet

Remove the animal to the side of the road if it is safe to stop. If not, make a note of where you were when you hit it, and call the local police or by-law department so they can remove the body off the road. This is important for several reasons. Firstly the animal is an obstruction and can interfere with the flow of traffic, even causing accidents. Secondly, and more importantly, nobody wants to see their animal dead after it has been hit or run over multiple times.

If you have removed the pet to the side of the road, and you feel comfortable doing so, you should approach the nearest house to let them know, as likely it is their pet, or they will know whose it is. Sadly many people do not feel safe doing this. On the other hand many pet owners are disgusted with “hit and run drivers” so owners need to be thankful when a driver does stop.

If you have not stopped or do not feel safe approaching a house, then you need to call the local SPCA or animal shelter and report hitting the animal. There may be an owner looking for the pet, and they would like to be able to find it, even if it is dead. If there is no shelter in the area, then call the local road authorities or police.

A Wild Animal

Every area has different laws about what you can and cannot do with “Road Kill”. Some places freely permit you to take it home, cook, and eat it. Others ask you to move it off the road or call the police to remove it. Some places will tell you simply to leave it where it is and call the authorities.

On a busy road it will be unsafe for you to remove the body from the road. If there is a chance the animal is injured but not dead, you may not want to approach it, for fear of it reacting negatively against you out of fear and panic.
Generally unless you know the laws in your area, it is best to leave the animal where it is and call the local authorities.

Hopefully you never have to use this information, but if you need it, be ready.