Roadkill: It's Not Just an Adventure, It's a Job

For critter specialists like Wendy Lee Allen, the calls known as DOAs are always the toughest. And the stinkiest.

A typical day for Wendy Lee Allen might include, oh, say, hacking off the head of a farm pig with the serrated edges of her hunting knife. Afterward she'll fling the skull atop a mound of red ants, that, having found a meaty food source, will ring the dinner bell and alert the rest of the colony. Picked clean after a couple of weeks, the pig's skull will be ready for whitening via a bucket of Clorox.

Wendy's macabre clutch of craniums extends beyond the rural pig's. Once stripped of their fleshy veneers by ants, the dog, possum, gator, and goat heads also get bleached and shelved for reference. A raccoon's penis bone served as focus for a recent on-the-job game of Name That Appendage. Both Wendy and another worker recognized the mammal's calcified schlong, but the payoff -- cash or a six-pack -- went to Wendy. "[My boss] gave me the prize because he said I was the cocky one in the group," she says.

Who are these guys anyway? Local paleontologists waylaid by too much rum and sun? Bone-rattling rave-ghouls left over from Halloween? Nah. They're the people responsible for scooping up the flattened fauna that garlands Broward County's roadways. The wacky folks at Critter Control are more commonly known for their expert intervention between pesky wildlife and suburbia, but roadkill patrol is also part of the job, and so its proceeds make their rancid way back to the office.

"The bones remind me of what I'm here for, the preservation of these animals and to eventually stop all this roadkill," she says, and singles out too much development and too many people feeding strays as possible causes for the suburban slaughter.

Wendy ventures out to a truck that's surprisingly girlish, considering that by the end of her shift, the back'll be piled high with the corpses of animals struck down by Broward's burgeoning traffic. Strapped around the stick shift is a collection of purple and pink scrunchies; smushed between the dash and windshield are ladybug and baby deer beanie babies, two of a slew given to her by her boyfriend, whose picture she's tucked behind the pickup's steering wheel.

When it comes to the roadkill (or "DOAs," as Critter Control staffers call them) she's all business. A clipboard lists the day's pickups and their whereabouts: possum, cat, raccoon, or the always intriguing "unknown," which is usually something that's been run over about 50 times or been flat-baked on the pavement like a pancake. Wendy also has a radio hookup to the office, and she often uses it to ask the dispatcher for more refined directions. "The fun part is trying to find them when you can't find them," she notes.

Presently she's trying to locate the day's first pickup. Realizing she's heading in the wrong direction, Wendy U-turns the truck. While driving she reminisces about other DOAs, her conversation often punctuated by a mantra-like chanting of the names of passing streets. "One day I had to stop and rush to go get this dog that was blocking traffic -- let me get my bearings here, Pembroke to Federal, go north to Plunkett; did I pass it already? -- when I get there, it's a turtle! I think what happened is that when they hit it, it started spinning on its plastron, which is the bottom shell, and what was flying out of it made the thing appear bigger than it probably was -- 1716, 1718, 1720. There it is!" she exclaims, having spotted an adolescent possum curled up as if asleep on a grassy median.

She snaps on her latex gloves and jumps out of the truck's cab, her ponytail swinging behind her. She snatches a white Hefty bag from the pickup's bed, and before bagging the possum, checks its pouch to make sure that there aren't surviving babies. If there are, and they're old enough to be rehabilitated, she'll rush them to a wildlife care center. Today it's only the one possum that's bought the farm. Wendy climbs back into the cab, sheds her gloves, and grabs the radio. "Seventeenth and Plunkett; possum's done." She waits for a reply.

Static crashes over the speaker, and dispatch informs her of some extra DOAs. "You're making up for yesterday, aren't you?" Wendy asks, referring to the previous day's lack of roadkill. Usually staffers will pick up anywhere from 15 to 20 dead animals a day; by the end of the week, the freezers back at home base are stuffed with about 1000 pounds of carcasses.

Wendy doesn't like to think too much about that. She prefers to be positive. Sometimes, when she has a particularly gooey job to scrape up, she likes to sing the Sesame Street song: "Sunnnnny day, Eeeeeverything's A-OK…."

Stop two: Pembroke Pines. Wendy scrunches her nose and peers through her mirrored sunglasses at the DOA list. "Oh, this is a cat in a towel. Those are always kind of weird when somebody's wrapped it up for you, like mystery meat," she says.

En route Wendy sights a half-smashed bird in the middle of a four-way stop. She can't help but notice it; spotting dead animals has become habit, although Critter Control doesn't have to collect DOAs that have not been reported. She pulls the truck over, hops out, and peels a gut-glued blackbird off the road with her one gloved hand. "Awwwwwww, poor little dude," she laments, before swinging another garbage bag onto the back of her truck.

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