VERNON - Florida Department of Agriculture's law enforcement division has stepped in following reports of two alleged neglected horses on Sapp Street in Vernon.
Amy Shepherd of Heartland Rescue Ranch says she has received numerous complaints of a mare and a foal on the property being "severely malnourished."
The horses' owner, Barrett Braxton, states the mare is indeed underweight - but that her recent birth to the foal is the culprit, not a lack of care.
"It is very common for horses to lose weight after they give birth," said Braxton. "Animal control has been after me for years, but I am not doing anything wrong."
Shepherd argues that while it is true giving birth causes weight loss, the mare's weight loss - and Braxton's history - point to neglect.
"Yes, it is common for horses to lose weight after giving birth - but not that much muscle mass," she said. "Not only are these horses malnourished, but we contacted [Washington County] Animal Control about another one [of Braxton's] horses three years ago because it was tied out on the side of State Road 79 and also neglected. Nothing was ever done about it, and that horse has since passed away, although we do not know the cause."
Shepherd goes on to say a friend stopped by to give Braxton food for the now-deceased horse and wormed it free of charge, both of which Braxton accepted at the time.
"He still called me and cussed me out," she charges. "Said it was none of my business."
Department of Agriculture investigators state Braxton was placed on a plan to get the horse's health back on track.
Washington County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Kristin Martin states no action has been taken by local law enforcement because records show no violations have taken place.
"Each time officers with either the sheriff's office or animal control have responded to that address, the animals have had adequate food and water, and no violations were found."
Shepherd remains unconvinced.
"It is concerning to me that he is getting another chance," Shepherd said. "We have already been through this with him once, and he has already been given a chance."
Department of Agriculture investigators are expected to re-check the animals in 30 days.