In a rural Charlotte County neighborhood, home to several healthy horses, Pepe and Maggie stood out.
Pepe, an 11-year-old gelding quarter horse, was gaunt. His spine jutted an inch over the rest of his back. His hip bones looked ready to poke through the skin. The brown patches of his coat rippled over his rib cage. Maggie, the mare who shared a 2-acre lot with him, was even skinnier.
A complaint from a neighbor sent Reannon Juergensen, a Charlotte County Animal Control officer, to launch an investigation last summer that led to the arrest this week of two people from Shady Hills — the man and woman who own the rural tract in Charlotte.
During her June 1 visit, Juergensen said, she found the horses milling around behind the fence among a yard strewn with debris.
Vehicle parts, garbage, bricks and rusted refrigerators shared the yard with the horses. The only food, she said, was a bale of browned hay that looked more like a pile of yard clippings. Watching Pepe stumble through an old burn pile and trip over 2-by-4s gave her a hunch. Blind.
In her report, Juergensen said she left a note with a child at the home at 40690 Little Farm Road in Punta Gorda, urging the owners to call. On June 6, she came back. No one was home. The next day, she got a call from the owner.
Robert Porter, 59, whose address is listed as 16801 Delft Place in Shady Hills, said he had agreed to watch the horses for a man he met at an auction in Arcadia, whose phone had since been disconnected, according to the report. With his wife unemployed and his daughter looking into college, he was doing the best he could to feed the horses, the report said.
Four days later, after getting a search warrant, animal control officers in Charlotte County took Pepe. Maggie couldn't be found.
After examination, veterinarians found Pepe was at least 200 pounds underweight, Juergensen said. And her hunch was right. An ophthalmologist found an indent in the middle of Pepe's skull, "indicating that he did suffer severe head trauma at one point. Most likely causing the blindness," the report said.
On Nov. 22, an arrest warrant was issued for Robert and Louise Porter on charges of animal cruelty.
Pasco sheriff's deputies arrested the Porters on Monday at their Shady Hills home. Both were taken to the Land O'Lakes Jail.
Robert Porter was released on $2,500 bail. Louise Porter, 57, was released on $1,500 bail.
The Porters could not be reached for comment. The phone number listed in their arrest reports did not work. Their Shady Hills home was ringed with chain-link fence, a locked gate and a "no trespassing" sign.
After treatment, the report said, Pepe was taken to a horse rescue in Arcadia to recover before he could be taken to a permanent home.
Asked if dealing with malnourished horses was emotionally taxing, Juergensen paused for a moment.
"It is," she said. "Every time."
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247