Equine Rescue

Horse Slaughter Allegations at Florida Farms; Residents Complain of Disturbing Sounds

By: Cynthia Smoot, FOX 13 Newsbio

“You’ll hear what sounds like horses or donkeys or cattle screaming…”

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TAMPA (FOX 13) – An investigator known for uncovering illegal slaughter operations in south Florida says farms in the Citrus Park area of Hillsborough County are also illegally butchering animals.Business and land owners nearby say they’re not surprised, because of the disturbing sounds they’ve heard coming from those farms.

Richard Couto of the Animal Recovery Mission says he has spent the past year infiltrating half a dozen farms, secretly recording video of what he says is inhumane slaughter of, and purchase of, horse meat on six different occasions.

“Kudo,” as he calls himself, says he has hours of video to prove it—video he shared exclusively with FOX 13 News. He says all the farms are within a mile or two of each other in the Citrus Park area of Hillsborough County.

While some of his video looks like a rural scene, Kudo says what he documented is going on barely a stone’s throw from busy highways and a popular mall.

The reaction in Citrus Park is shock, and disappointment.

Gustavo Vergara helps his brother run a bike shop in Citrus Park, right next to the Tampa Bay Trail.  When we showed him a few stills of Kudo’s video, he was stunned to learn what may be going on in his neighborhood.

“Shocking…I’m grossed out really, but mostly shocking…unbelievable,” he said.

We also spoke with a woman who wasn’t as surprised. Jennifer Flatt coordinates tour groups for nearby Big Cat Rescue. She says for years they’ve heard disturbing sounds coming from an adjacent property.

“You’ll hear what sounds like horses or donkeys or cattle screaming, not their regular farmyard sounds,  it’ll go on for several minutes, then it’ll just stop,” Flatt said.

Three years ago, the sanctuary started building an 8-foot high fence around their perimeter, but Flatt says that hasn’t stopped another ongoing problem:  gun fire. She showed us several bullet holes in the wall near their leopard habitat.

“We’ve had to increase our security because we’re hearing a lot of gunshots. Basically, it could be in the morning, in the late afternoon or after hours in the evening,” she said.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed to FOX 13 that they have an ongoing investigation, as does the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office.

But a sheriff’s spokesman says the ban on selling horse meat in Florida that took effect two years ago doesn’t forbid someone from killing a horse for their own personal consumption.

The man  who wrote the Senate version of that 2010 legislation doesn’t see it that way. Former State Senator Victor Crist is now a Hillsborough County Commissioner whose district includes Citrus Park.

“If for whatever reason there are loopholes here that others may have been clever to navigate through, then  I would work to find a way to close those,” Crist said.

Crist says he was horrified by what he saw on Kudo’s video—not just what appears to be the sale of horse meat, but the slaughter of other animals.

” I would be concerned about this going on anywhere in our country,” he said.

The commissioner says he’s working with the county attorney to come up with an ordinance that would ban horse slaughter in Hillsborough County—period. That would require approval by the entire board of commissioners.

14 replies »

  1. Richard Couto is a hero in the world of eliminating illegal horse slaughter. He has fought it for a long time in the Miami area and now, evidently, he is finding it in other areas of Florida.

    This is the most cruel and horrific type of slaughter and it must be stopped. If it were not for people like Richard, we would not know what is going on.

    Commissioner Victor Crist is on the right track when he advocates making horse slaughter illegal, period.

    If the slaughter that Couto discovered also includes other animals, and it is done cruelly, as it must be since the screaming would indicate, then it also must be stopped. Animals do not deserve to be slaughtered in such a cruel fashion.

    I hope that the videos help to put these souless people in jail for a long time. If they are discovered to be illegals, then DEPORT THEM!!!!!


    • We would not know because people like this keep their mouths shut: “You’ll hear what sounds like horses or donkeys or cattle screaming, not their regular farmyard sounds, it’ll go on for several minutes, then it’ll just stop,” Flatt said.
      If I hear horses screaming, I’m founding out why!
      6 occasions of purchasing horsemeat and no arrests yet? Equine slaughter is illegal in FL so why the delay of prosecutions???


      • Lisa, I agree with you entirely…..the people who heard the screams should have IMMEDIATELY called police and tried to find out what was going on. If I heard it, just like you, I would find out for sure.
        The type of people who do these things are dangerous people and it is wise to make sure that police are involved instead of trying to take it on yourself to investigate.

        We just had a man in our town who shot a beautiful Heron in his yard and then stomped it to death. The neighbors called the police and he was arrested. However, since he had a gun, the neighbors were wise not to try to approach him, no telling what kind of weirdo would do something like that.


  2. I agree that Richard Couto is certainly a hero. He has been tireless in his efforts to stop horse slaughter in Florida for a long, long time. Dear God in Heaven just reading this makes me ill. Praying for a miracle in the House today on the Moran Amendment!


  3. They need to have strictor laws on this kind of stuff and animal cruelty period, now it’s only a misdemeanor they need to make it a felony or
    something. When they pass ( I hope) the horse slaughter prevention act they need to start bringing down people that continue to transport them to the boarders like Dennis Chavez and that guy ayache, so next we need to see what we can do to push for harsher laws


  4. It’s quite apparent the majority of Americans are against slaughtering horses. As an equine advocate myself I have found the problem starts with our government! The put half ass laws on effect and don’t prosecute the ones who break them. There should be a nationwide ban on horse slaughter! Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for USDA inspections. We do not consume horse meat in America!! Why should our horses be sent to slaughter? Obama has rebuffed on his campaign promise to oppose slaughter. Once again it comes down to money. People are so dam greedy and would do away with morals in order to make a buck! Richard Couto is doing a wonderful job we need more people like him! God bless him!


  5. This is not “new” – I was reading about this area in Florida 2-3 years ago = the people are straight out of the movie, “Deliverance”, and even the local cops are not willing to go on the properties because they are afraid of these people. So I’m fairly sure why the neighbors didn’t report the sounds they were hearing – especially when the one lady said there are bullet holes in her fences! Perhaps they can go in dressed in riot gear and take these neanderthals on that way!


  6. Let’s get back to the undercover citizen investigator that put his/her life on the line for this story…..
    and it has been going on forever.

    The local LEOs (local enforcement officers) DO NOT GIVE A FLYING RAT’S A$$!

    Yeah, the perps are scum, but they get alot of help from law enforcement, Fed and state prosecutors, legislators and dead head citizens.

    People, advocates…our institutions are failing us/US.


  7. Kudo is a HERO to all of us in South Florida. I pray for his safety and continued success in all that he does for the animals, daily. I pray ALSO that the sadists ROT from the inside out, slowly but completely.. and sooner rather than later. Any politician who ignores cruelty because of ‘it’s business’ OR his/her just plain laziness… those polititicians and County Commissioners (i.e. Miami) are included in the latter prayer!


  8. Happening right in Florida and no one can do anything about it?! This is insane and extremely disturbing! Arrest these LOW LIFES is right!


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