Warrior, a miniature horse, is dead, and Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies booked one of their own Monday on animal cruelty charges, deputies said.
Pamela Belo, 48, was charged with felony and misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty after she surrendered her four miniature horses to RVR Horse Rescue in Riverview on July 3. Two of the four horses had been deprived of food and nourishment for the past year, detectives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Agriculture Unit found in a criminal investigation.
Belo, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office assigned to the Community Outreach Division, resigned after she was suspended without pay. She was released from a Hillsborough County jail Monday on $2,500 bail.
"She couldn't care for them anymore, so she took them to the animal rescue," Hillsborough County sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said Monday. "But by then, it was too late."
The year of neglect left two of the four horses emaciated. A veterinarian tried to treat both horses, but Warrior, 14, died of starvation three days later, a necropsy showed.
Miniature horses should weigh between 350 and 400 pounds, said Shawn Jayroe, founder of RVR Horse Rescue. Warrior weighed less than 200 pounds, Jayroe said. His ribs were visible through his skin.
"They're small already, but they're usually supposed to be fat little butterballs," Jayroe said. "He was just a little skeleton with a head. It was absolutely horrible."
Warrior's hoofs were 4 inches longer than they should have been, making it nearly impossible for him to stand, Jayroe said. Lying on their sides for extended periods of time is dangerous for horses, Jayroe said, and can cause organ damage.
She and the other workers kept vigil over him, turning him every couple of hours and helping him stand for 15 minutes at a time before he collapsed from exhaustion.
When the heat got too bad, Jayroe tied back Warrior's black mane so that he could eat. Warrior's eyes were glazed over, and he could barely move, but occasionally he'd lick their hands or nudge them with his nose.
"How could Pam Belo walk up the stairs by that pony laying on the ground, dying, and go eat her dinner?" Jayroe said. "I don't understand that."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3111.