Horse slaughter investigator Richard Couto was on another call when he came across a butchered former race horse.
Miami-Dade's illegal horse meat trade again reared its ugly head with the grisly discovery Friday of a legless, butchered mare dumped by the side of a road in Hialeah.
Horse slaughter investigator Richard Couto of the Animal Recovery Mission said the mare was butchered alive.
"She was actually stabbed and cut through the heart," he said. "This horse was alive probably for a good 30 minutes after that. Probably after half her legs were taken off, she was still alive, which is very common for horse slaughter cases."
Couto said he found the carcass near 18200 Northwest 132nd Avenue after investigating a call from the county reporting two horses on an illegal slaughter site.
"When I left that site, I drove down the road and I saw this horse basically dumped with no legs," he said. "The front and the back legs are gone."
A racing ID tattoo in the mare's inside upper lip revealed she was a former thoroughbred race horse who appeared to be about ten years old, Couto said.
The discovery is the latest in a string of gruesome butcherings in Miami-Dade's infamous C-9 Basin, an area bordered by Okeechobee Road and west of the Turnpike.
"This is one of the top illegal horse slaughter areas in the world," Couto said. "The C-9 Basin was raided for horse slaughter about a year and a half ago...but we can see now a lot of horse slaughter continues here today."
In the Basin, which is agriculturally zoned and dotted with nurseries, wetlands, and small ranches, such operations have been going on for decades. County authorities shut down six illegal slaughterhouses between 2001 and 2005, but point to murky laws and shared jurisdiction to explain why problems continue.
While the US Department of Agriculture monitors licensed slaughterhouses, the responsibility to prosecute unlicensed outfits falls to multiple jurisdictions -- and therefore often falls to no one at all.
Couto says the horses are butchered for meat, with operators often stealing horses, buying them off Craigslist, or purchasing them at auction.
"There's a big, large demand for the meat, and not just in Miami-Dade and South Florida but all of Florida," he said. "The meat is going between $7-40 per pound in our state. It's a high commodity item, and when there's a demand there's gonna be supply.
In 2009 alone, at least 24 horses were found slaughtered. Couto says working the cases never gets easier.
"It's not easy coming to these scenes," he said. "It's disgusting. It makes me sick...This has been going on in Miami-Dade county for 30, 40, 50 years, and those days need to be over and done with."