Migdalia "Milly" Cowan and her husband, Alex Paez, were regulars on the national bodybuilding circuit, traveling cross-country to flex while glistening in Speedos. But while they competed, prosecutors say, they left their horses — which they used as props in muscled photo shoots — to starve back on their South Miami-Dade ranch.
Paez has already pleaded guilty to the animal abuse charge, but Cowan has so far fought the allegations in court. She's scheduled to go to trial today — and the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is already waiting in the courthouse to ask for a stiff sentence.
"When you look at the photos of the condition of the horses on their property, the extent of the cruelty in this case was really extreme," says Kathleen Monahan, president of South Florida SPCA. "Just look at the bones coming out of these horses."
Cowan's attorney, Alexander Michaels, didn't immediately responded to a message from New Times. In the past, though, he's said the animal activists have blown the case out of proportion, and called the charges "no big deal."
“I wish the police would spend more time on human victims, and child victims, than on horses who skipped a meal,” the attorney told the Miami Herald last October.
Update 3:30 pm: Michaels says that Cowan has pleaded not guilty because her husband was responsible for the horse's care. He also criticized Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, accusing her of charging Cowan only because of activist demands. "It's just a vindictive prosecution because of political pressure, which is very typical," Michaels says.
Paez and Cowan were already well known to the horse-rescue community, Monahan says. South Florida SPCA rescued two horses from the bodybuilding couple in the past, and the pair was charged with animal abuse in 2011. (Those charges were dropped after they completed a pretrial diversion program.)
But in May 2015, police and South Florida SPCA volunteers had to rescue three more horses from the couple. Photos show severely malnourished animals.
Monahan says the horses were not only starved but also emotionally abused.
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"The mental and emotional condition of these horses was really extreme," Monahan says. "Often when you save a horse, you hold up a bucket of feed and that horse is your friend immediately. These horses didn't want anyone to go near them or to touch them."
Paez was sentenced in November to one year of probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor count of animal abuse and was banned from owning horses for a year. A number of South Florida SPCA members who helped rescue the horses are ready to testify today if Cowan does go to trial on her similar charges.
Monahan says her group, which has rescued more than 2,000 horses in its 25 years in South Florida, hopes the high-profile case — which saw coverage as far away as London — draws attention to the number of abused horses in Miami.
"We have a lot of horses in Dade County, which you might not realize if you're only in downtown Miami or South Beach," she says. "There's a huge agricultural area in this county and a lot of horses, and we need to do a better job of caring for them."