CLEARWATER — Garnet the horse was named after the crimson-colored gem because of the deep red shine of her coat.
Born in 2007, the 16-hand bay quarter horse with a black mane and tail spent the past two years patrolling Clearwater as part of the Police Department's mounted unit, most recently attending an outreach event Oct. 12 at Westfield Countryside mall.
Nancy Miller, a reserve Clearwater officer and Garnet's owner, lost count of the people who stroked or snapped photos of Garnet that day.
"We didn't know," Miller said, "three days later, we were going to lose her."
On Oct. 15 Garnet died at Miller's Odessa home. Pregnant with her second foal, she was 6 years old.
"We all loved her very much," Miller said. "So it's heart-wrenching."
In 2011, the Police Department created the mounted unit in an effort to reduce criminal behavior, such as drug use and sales and public sexual activities, in large parks and other wooded areas where it was difficult for officers to navigate on foot or by cruiser.
The unit is operated by Miller and Debbie Storey. Miller retired from the department as a lieutenant after 30 years of service in 2009. Storey, a Clearwater police property clerk, volunteers her time in the unit.
Atop the horses, Miller and Storey can easily travel through tall grass, sometimes inhabited by snakes and insects. They patrol several parks and the east-west trail in Clearwater.
But the best part of the job, Miller said, is interacting with residents who approach her and Storey because of the horses.
"There are people that will come up and talk to me," she said. "They would not talk to us otherwise."
Garnet was among four horses — the others are Smokey, Rudy and Blue — that take turns patrolling the city. The Police Department leases each horse for $1 per year and covers medical expenses for the horses if they are hurt while on duty.
When Garnet was about 3 years old, Miller took her to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's police horse training program at the fairgrounds in Tampa. For about a week, trainers tested her resistance to loud noises, ground obstacles and bright lights. She walked over a bridge and withstood the flashing lights of a police cruiser and the loud humming of a helicopter, among other tests.
"That's enough to freak out most horses. She was, you know, a little bit intimidated by it, but she got used to it," Miller said. "She was an excellent police horse."
When trotting across a street snarled with traffic, "she never seemed to hesitate," Storey said.
Five months' pregnant, Garnet had recently developed colic, and medicine had helped. That was, until Oct. 15, when she collapsed while grazing in Miller's pasture.
Unable to coax Garnet to stand, Miller called a veterinarian, who arrived and diagnosed a severe case of colic. Her vital signs worsened and her prognosis was poor.
"I had to make the horrible decision to let her go," Miller said through tears. "We had to euthanize her."
She was buried on Miller's Odessa property. Miller and Storey hope to place a memorial stone atop her grave.
Storey's horse Smokey was close to Garnet. They often grazed in the pasture together and worked side by side on patrol, Storey said.
"He misses her," she said. "They grew up together. They just had a tremendous bond."
In the days following Garnet's death, Smokey lingered in the pasture, at one point lying on the ground — perhaps, Storey believes, in search of Garnet's scent.
Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. On Twitter: @lauracmorel. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.