Police found 13 dogs locked in his SUV. Now he faces charges, and they need good homes.

A compact SUV served as a kennel for a pack of 13 dogs discovered in an Islamorada parking lot before dawn Tuesday.

The owner, Frank La Peruta, 54, was arrested on animal-cruelty warrants issued earlier this month in Okeechobee County.

“And they didn’t even know about these animals,” Marsha Garrettson, manager of the Key Largo Animal Shelter, said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many dogs come in one time.”

The arrival tripled the number of dogs at the shelter, operated by the nonprofit Humane Animal Care Coalition under a Monroe County contract.

Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies working a pre-dawn traffic stop near mile marker 81.5 heard the sound of barking dogs coming from a Chevrolet Equinox parked at a nearby business.

When Deputy Bryan Branco looked through the partially opened windows, he found a dozen dogs staring back. “Thirteen, actually,” Garrettson said.

It took Animal Control Officer Kevin Hooper “quite a while to get them all out,” she related. “The vehicle was full of dogs and food and feces.”

Most of the rescued dogs were in the small- to medium-size range, with two larger mixed breeds.

“La Peruta advised he could not rely on anyone to properly care for the dogs in Okeechobee, as he worked in Islamorada, and decided to bring them with him,” Branco wrote in his report.

Okeechobee County authorities on Oct. 8 filed 14 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty against La Peruta after an investigation of a one-acre property where officers found six “mistreated or neglected” horses along with 10 cats locked in a shed and two neglected dogs, according to an Okeechobee court filing.

La Peruta, who described himself as a security guard, was taken back to Okeechobee, where he faces a mid-November hearing.

The dogs rescued from La Peruta’s vehicle were not starving but were “dirty with internal and external parasites,” Garrettson said. “Some had matted hair.”

All 13 dogs will be offered for adoption from the Key Largo Animal Shelter after veterinary treatment and neutering.

“We were fortunate we had the room but we still have to move some dogs,” Garrettson said.

Before Hurricane Irma, most of the Key Largo shelter’s animals had been evacuated to a Palm Beach County shelter where nearly all were quickly adopted.

What happens to Fido after He dies?
Company near Olympia will compost your dead pets

What happens to Fido after he dies?

Yes, all dogs go to heaven. Their bodies, however, are another matter. And when dealing with those, pet owners have options aplenty: cremation, burial at a pet cemetery, taxidermy, even freeze-drying or turning the ashes into synthetic diamonds.

Now comes another: Composting. A startup in Washington state, Rooted Pet, says its new service is something the “pet aftercare space” has been lacking — and one that owners can feel good about. Letting kitty decompose in a mixture of organic matter uses less energy than firing up a cremation oven, requires less land than a graveyard and is a poignant, dust-to-dust type of process, general manager Paul Tschetter says.

With cremation, “you’re quite literally vaporizing the soft tissues … it’s pulverized and put in a cute box and given back,” said Tschetter, whose firm is near Olympia. “I feel like we’re adding more meaning back into this whole death process.”

This could be a mental hurdle for many grieving pet owners, but Tschetter is probably onto something. The $67 billion pet industry includes a growing aftercare segment catering to owners who, after spending lots keeping animals they consider family members happy and alive, are willing to go to extra lengths when the pets die. More than 700 pet cemeteries and crematoriums in the United States are one testament to the demand.

“If you’re in this business right now,” Tom Flynn, president of Hillcrest-Flynn Pet Funeral Home and Crematory in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2012, “you’re just sailing with the wind right at your back.”

Tschetter describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur,” who, along with a friend who had years of experience in waste management and composting, realized a few years ago that there might be room for new ideas in this market. Composting animal carcasses, they knew, is not unusual; it’s the method many farms use to dispose of deceased livestock, and it’s how some states contend with roadkill.

Donated farm animals and some collected roadkill were what Rooted used as “test subjects” for their composting system, said Tschetter. The system is based at his business partner’s farm, but it’s all indoors, which helps the company avoid some regulatory hurdles that would come with composting bodies outside.

Pet carcasses are placed in boxlike “pods” with wood chips and other organic matter, Tschetter said. Six to eight weeks later, the cocktail has morphed into rich soil that looks, smells and feels like any other compost, he said.

“We’re literally taking what happens in nature and speeding it up,” he said, referring to the decomposition that would occur if you buried your pooch in the backyard (which many jurisdictions do not allow). But, he acknowledged, “it’s a newer thing and it’s going to weird some people out.”

Given the 1-cubic-yard size of the pods, the company for now can only accept animals weighing up to 100 pounds, Tschetter said; so far it has composted mostly dogs and cats, but also a few birds and a snake.

That might change. Rooted presented at a recent veterinary conference in Washington state last month, and Tschetter said the response from area veterinarians — who will be the primary go-betweens linking pet owners to the composting business — has been “overwhelming.”

People who decide composting their dead pet is right for them can choose from several end products. Let Rooted keep the compost and it will use it on its farm or on a tree-planting project. Get your composted pet back (alone or, for a lower price, mixed with other pets), and you can use it to nourish a new tree in your yard. If that seems a bit too hands-on, Rooted can send you a houseplant growing in compost created from your beloved animal’s remains.

It would be, Tschetter said, a “living memorial.”