The deputy drove up on an early Saturday morning last month to feed the five horses at the Hillsborough County Sheriff Office's training facility in Lithia and found a surprise inside the corral.
A sixth horse.
Apples, an aptly named Appaloosa and one of the horses that the Sheriff's Office seized in an animal cruelty case in January, had given birth to a colt. At the time, the horses were so thin that deputies had no idea one might be pregnant.
They had since grown to healthier sizes, gaining about a pound a day thanks to twice-daily feedings. Because the mother's legs were so wobbly, deputies guess they missed the birth by just 30 to 40 minutes.
In a way, the colt represented something of an award for the hard work put in by the detectives and veterinarians who nursed the horses back to health.
They named him JJ.
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Sgt. Edward Raburn heads up the sheriff's agricultural unit. Having grown up in East Hillsborough herding cattle on his grandfather's ranch, the tall and lean man is a natural for the position.
And the position is an important one. The unit handles a variety of duties, not the least being fighting the neglect of large animals through the entire county, including all three municipalities.
Raburn said an economic downturn goes hand in hand with large animals being starved or abused. Many owners are surprised at the costs associated with raising a horse once vet and farrier bills are factored in.
"We have what I call 'back yard horse owners,' " Raburn said. "They buy a horse at an auction for $100 and think they can just let him feed off the grass in their back yard. It doesn't work that way.
"When times get tough, they let the horse starve or they just open the gate and let him go."
Raburn said they get three to four calls a week about neglected livestock, mostly cows and horses.
In the case of the five horses, they all lived with an owner in Wimauma. They were malnourished and mistreated. Often, animals are so neglected they can't be saved.
But in this case, officials were confident the horses could be brought back to health.
The Sheriff's Office filed legal documents to seize the animals permanently, but the owner voluntarily relinquished them.
Animals are sometimes returned to owners. If not, they're sold at auction. These horses, however, would end up in a different home: the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch in Live Oak.
For 57 years, the ranch has been a second-chance home for wayward youths. Development director Wayne Witczak said, "These aren't bad kids, just kids on a bad path."
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To me, it's a striking parallel. Officials stepped up to help the horses and put them on a good path. The effort yielded something even greater: a spindly legged colt who could warm even the coldest heart.
How many more awards await us if we lend support to efforts such as the Boys Ranch? How much more will we benefit if we strive to turn lives around? It can be done. Success awaits with earnest efforts, and troubled youths can grow into great citizens.
They loaded Apples into a trailer for the ride from Lithia to Live Oak, and JJ followed right along, eager to stay by his mother's side.
That's all I'm saying.