How an NI cat owner’s outcry over the fate of her dead pet led to a change in rules on animals killed on roads
Cats found dead on Northern Ireland's roads will no longer be automatically "chopped up and used for biofuel", a charity has revealed.
Instead, they will be checked for a microchip to give bereaved owners the chance to say goodbye properly.
The policy change was inspired by a beloved pet cat that met a tragic end after being knocked down in Londonderry.
After officials failed to find her owner, Gemini the cat was 'rendered' at a processing plant in March, leaving owner and mum-of-one Veronica McMonagle (43) "disgusted, horrified, distraught and having nightmares".
After the story appeared in the Belfast Telegraph, national charity CatsMatter took up the cause.
Now the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has confirmed all animals killed on our roads will be routinely scanned to make sure every effort is made to return pets to their owners for burial or cremation.
"We decided to take action in Gemini's name," said Carlie Power, CatsMatter head of liaisons.
"When we first found out about this, we were shocked and of course saddened and angry for Veronica.
"We raised the issue of scanning for microchips with all Northern Ireland authorities involved and now the Department for Infrastructure has said all cats brought in will be scanned.”."
The decision was confirmed in a letter to the charity's co-founder Mandy Hobbis this week.
Mandy's own cat, Snowy, was thrown in an incinerator by her local council in Manchester after a similar hit-and-run incident three years ago.
The department's letter said that "following review, companies have agreed to scan domestic animals that are killed on their road networks in an attempt to identify owners", but pointed out that seeing their pets with high-speed impact injuries will be "a matter for each individual to consider at the time".
Cat owner Veronica McMonagle revealed how she felt "physically sick" when told her pet's fate by Derry and Strabane District Council.
"I called the council to see if they might have picked her up," she said. "That was only one day after Gemini had been knocked down.
"They said she had been taken to the pound. I called the pound and they told me that she had been 'rendered'. I had no idea what that meant so they explained she had been taken to a meat processing plant.
"I was horrified and called the processing plant and they said my Gemini had already been broken down, chopped up, cooked and turned to biofuel. I felt physically sick.
"But I'm so grateful for everyone at CatsMatter for taking up the cause. If you don't have a pet like Gemini, it's hard to understand how attached you get to them. She was part of the family and her sister Luna missed her straight away."
Carlie said owners' heartache at finding out a cat had been killed was being compounded by how their pet's body was being disposed of by local authorities.
"We raised the issue of scanning for microchips with all Northern Ireland authorities involved and this has resulted in the Department for Infrastructure telling us all cats brought in will be scanned,” she said.
"For Gemini, this is a wonderful legacy and hundreds, potentially thousands over the years, will now be scanned and returned to their owners.
"Although Gemini was sadly never given the option to go home, her legacy has seen to it that many other owners will not suffer like Veronica."
CatsMatter is also taking the campaign nationwide.
"We discovered using roadkill for producing biofuel is widely accepted as a perfectly reasonable method of disposal by local authorities," said Carlie.
"We wanted to discover if there could be a better end for the cats and dogs killed by cars, microchipped or not.
"So, when we heard a tissue donation centre was short on donations, we decided to try and work with them too, not only to help save lives of those who survive accidents, but to try to get these unfortunate souls to meet a better end than being chopped up and used for biofuel.
"Trials will now begin at up to three councils, with the hope of this being rolled out across the UK."