ARLINGTON — Blaze was a beloved horse.
But at 28 years old, it was time for Sidney Montooth, of Arlington, to put down her best friend earlier this month. What to do after a horse, or other large animal dies, is a somewhat common issue for people in Western Washington, especially those who don’t own land.
As Blaze, who was a quarter horse, slipped into the great beyond Sept. 8, his head slowly fell into Montooth’s lap. She cried. The loss was a gut punch. The two had been through a lot together.
“I was a wreck,” Montooth said. “That was my soulmate.”
But like many animal lovers, including many in the more rural parts of Western Washington, she didn’t know what to do with the remains. She doesn’t own land and didn’t have a place to bury him. So she posed the question on Facebook. “I have no idea what to do,” she wrote.
“I’ve personally never had to put a horse down,” Montooth said last week.
Community members offered support, with one even offering a place on their land. Ultimately the property owner let Montooth bury Blaze near the stable where he’d been boarded.
Boarding horses is common. Usually for a fee, or work on the property, owners use barns and paddocks to keep their horses. It can be a process, as some horses — like humans — don’t get along very well.
There’s an introduction process, and if the rest of the horses in the herd accept the new member, it’s fine. If not, the horse might have to be separated from others, or the owner might just try a different place to board.
Blaze had a bit of a rebellious streak, Montooth said, and did not deal with other humans very well. She got him in 2010 and boarded him at a number of different stables over the past decade.
Montooth often used her horse to ride trails through the countryside or along lightly used roads. One day, riding north of Granite Falls on Russian Road, she came across a bear staring them down. Without much hesitation, Blaze turned around slowly and then “booked it,” Montooth said.
“He made sure I was good before him,” Montooth said. “It was scary, but honestly it was quite the experience.”
Several options exist for animal disposal in Western Washington. Several locals suggested QAR Dead Animal Removal, based in Graham, to Montooth. QAR charges between $50 and $500. Prices depend on the size — and type — of the animal, said QAR owner Pasco Campbell.
“I pick up anything from horses, cows, sheep, goats, llamas; for the city of Puyallup, I do deer,” Campbell said. “Every now and then in King County I do sea lions and sea life, seals.”
Campbell serves Monroe and other areas in Snohomish County, as well.
Working with veterinarians for leads on jobs, Campbell occasionally does the work himself.
“A lot of the time, I will shoot horses and other animals” to euthanize them, Campbell said. “I’ve killed three-, four-hundred horses over the past couple years.”
He helped build the trucks the company uses for the service. It’s basically a dump truck with a crane and rollers to get the dead livestock to its final stop. That stop is usually either the Baker Commodities recycling center in Seattle or a local dump.
Snohomish County code requires animals to be buried or disposed of within 24 hours.
“When a large animal like a horse or cow dies, it is important for the owner to dispose of the body appropriately,” county health department spokesperson Kari Bray said. “One reason for this is to prevent the potential spread of disease or contamination of groundwater or well water.”
State law also spells out certain burial conditions for animals.
“A person disposing of a dead animal by burial must place it so that every part is covered by at least three feet of soil; at a location not less than one hundred feet from any well, spring, stream or other surface waters; not in a low-lying area subject to seasonal flooding or within a one-hundred-year flood plain; and not in a manner likely to contaminate groundwater,” the law states.
Animals can also be composted, though the compost pile has to be at least 300 feet from any stream, river, pond or lake via state law. Snohomish County law allows animal burial sites 100 feet away from surface water and wells. Composting laws in Snohomish County are adopted state laws. The Snohomish County Conservation District suggests a base of an absorbent, carbon-based material like sawdust or old hay. The body should be buried in a similar pile, at least 2- or 3-feet deep.
The compost pile should be managed and any part of the animal that becomes exposed should be immediately buried. Compost can be ready in four months to a year.
A local man volunteered to bury Blaze’s body in a large grave. Montooth said she couldn’t bring herself to go to the burial. Simply giving him a proper resting place gave her some peace, however.
On Friday, Montooth fashioned a small cross and put lime over the site to help with the smell.
Montooth said the property will be sold soon, so she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to visit Blaze. She does not plan on getting another horse soon. But she’s hopeful she can work with difficult horses in need of a second chance, though in what capacity she is not sure.
“Even if it’s not my horse,” she said, “I just want to help horses and give them a second chance and rehome them to a good home instead of having them put down because they’re dangerous.”