This morning, a man riding through a fairly empty area of Homestead pulled his horse to a screeching halt. He called Laurie Waggoner, director of branch operations for the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also known as the SPCA, and said he had found something awful.
"He saw the remains of a horse," Waggoner tells New Times. "He said it was badly decomposed." It was the second horse found slaughtered in Homestead in as many days, leading Waggoner and the SPCA to draw one frightening conclusion: "Someone's stealing horses and butchering them," she says.
After hanging up the phone, Waggoner hopped into a car and drove to the scene at SW 192nd Avenue and 136th Street. When she arrived, she says, she scanned the ground for remnants. She noticed a horse's leg, and then another, and then a spinal column, and then a shoulder.
"It looked like it had been there for a few weeks," she says. "It still smelled, and there was still hair there on the legs. It was enough that we could tell what color the horse was: buckskin."
She says a similar buckskin horse had been stolen from a nearby farm around July 6. "Buckskin is not a common color," she says. (It's roughly the color of hay.) That meant one thing: The horse she had seen was almost certainly the same one that had been stolen a few weeks earlier. And it was lying in front of her, butchered and dead.
Yesterday, private animal investigator Richard Couto told the Miami Herald he had found a different horse's head sitting in a Homestead field, less than a mile from where Waggoner stood today. That horse, she says, matched the description of one that had also been stolen from a nearby farm.
Couto said that horse, likely 8 years old, had been "certainly tortured and butchered alive." He added, “It’s a real grueling death.” He then called Homestead a "hotbed" of illegal horse slaughterhouses. According to the Herald, horse meat retails for anywhere from $4.50 to $40 a pound on the black market.
South Florida animal-rescue authorities have been fighting a long battle with illegal slaughterhouses: In 2010, New Times chronicled Couto's vigilante efforts to shut down many of Southwest Miami-Dade's illegal slaughterhouses himself.
Kathleen Monahan, president of the SPCA, tells New Times via phone that in some countries, horse meat is valued for its "medicinal" properties and is rumored to cure diseases such as anemia.
"One of the main messages that we hope to get out to the community is that, even though we all know this is illegal, there is this idea here that the meat is good for you," Monahan says. "But the fact is, American horses are not raised for slaughter." She says horses are injected with chemicals such as the pain reliever phenylbutazone, which make their meat unsafe to eat. The FDA bans the use of phenylbutazone, also known as "bute," in animals raised to be eaten.
According to a fact sheet sent out by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society, American horses are routinely fed at least 50 chemicals the FDA bans in food animals.
"Obviously," Monahan says, "you don't steal people’s horses and slaughter them for any reason. But if you don’t have mercy, at least think about the toxicity."
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