by Heidi Rucki
In an all-too-familiar scene in Florida, the gruesome butchered corpses of two horses were found midweek near the road in Lehigh Acres by a couple driving by the intersection of Clark Ave. and 13th St. The Chiltons immediately called the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. It didn’t take long before the news of the gruesome discovery spread to television, and by March 20, the latest Florida horse slaughters had received extensive coverage.
Lee County Sheriff officials and deputies for the agricultural crimes unit responded to the grisly scene. According to Lieutenant Scott Lineberger, public information officer, they found the carcasses of two horses that appeared to have been butchered for their meat. Heads and rib cages and bones remained. Lineberger surmised that whoever butchered the horses seemed to know what he was doing.
Investigators are still probing this horse butchering that is the first case of its kind in Lee County. They hope to get information about laws under which someone could be charged and have requested assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Agriculture. At the very least, it is expected that those responsible for the killings may be charged with “inappropriate disposal of a livestock carcass.”
Meanwhile, Dianne Chilton continues to have her own difficulty with finding the two mutilated horses. She was traumatized by the sight and seeing the buzzards at the remains. She can only keep asking, “How could someone do this?” She said,
It looked like someone took a chainsaw and just sawed these horses up. There were two heads and bodies. It was horrible. Their eyes were open. … I cried. I mean, you have two horse heads laying there, chainsawed and their eyes are looking at you. How could anyone do that? … A horse is a pet. This is a pet.
Richard Couto of Animal Recovery Mission weighed in on this latest horse slaughter in Florida, calling it a felony. He has investigated all of the Florida horse slaughter cases. Couto said that even if the horses’ owner butchered them, it is not legal to possess horse meat in Florida. He noted, “This is very much a black and white issue right on paper and a statute.” It is Couto’s belief that this is a 3rd-Degree Felony.
Over 50 horses have been butchered for their meat in Florida since 2009. The slaughters have mostly taken place in Miami-Dade County and all of the horses were stolen and illegally butchered, presumably for the black market meat trade. Florida law prohibits the selling, transport or possession of horsemeat that is intended for human consumption. However, a horse owner may slaughter his own horse for his own use.
At this time, the investigators are working with few clues.