Jessica Edwards knows what happens to show pigs when the fair ends. They go to the highest bidder and then to the slaughterhouse. She can deal with that.
Still, 9-year-old Jessica was devastated after finding two pigs slaughtered in her back yard. She had spent the past couple of months raising the animals for a contest.
Jessica and her mother, Marylynn Edwards, discovered the dead pigs, Holly and Molly, at their Plant City home Saturday morning. The accused culprits - three neighborhood dogs - lay next to the pen.
"She was crying horrifically," said Jessica's dad, Chad Edwards. "She didn't know what to think, seeing death. She knows these animals are gone once they go to market, but she doesn't witness that."
Jessica's dad shot and killed one of the dogs. The other two got away, but not before her mom hit one in the head with a copper pipe. They said all three looked like pit bulls or pit bull mixes.
Two other pigs and two cats at nearby houses were killed the same morning. At least two of the dogs believed to be involved belonged to Derrick and Ashley Sauls, who gave upfour of their dogs to Hillsborough County Animal Services after the incident. It's unclear how many of their dogs were involved.
A fifth dog was held until the Saulses paid $76 in fees to take it home, said Marti Ryan, an Animal Services spokeswoman. They could face more than $2,000 in fines for their pets being at large and vicious, Ryan said.
The Saulses could afford to pay the release fees on only one dog. They chose Georgia, a cur mix, said Ashley Sauls. The dog Chad Edwards killed at the scene wasn't theirs, she said.
Although Georgia is under home quarantine, the Edwards family is worried about the fate of Jessica's newest animal. On Thursday, someone gave her a pet hog, already named Ashley, after hearing what happened. They also have two horses.
"Once they get the taste of blood, they'll be back," Marylynn Edwards said.
Because it was an animal-on-animal attack, Ryan said, Animal Services can't keep the dog against its owners' will.
"If (Georgia) had caused serious injury to a human being, things would be different," Ryan said. "We do not have the right to go any further at this juncture."
Ashley Sauls admitted that some of her dogs have roamed the neighborhood in the past, but said she's not convinced Georgia was involved in the attack.
"She doesn't leave our yard," Sauls said. "She's not vicious at all. We're really shocked at the whole situation."
Jessica's dead pigs were entered in the show contest at November's Hillsborough County fair, where the girl won $1,300. She hopes to buy another pig in time for the Strawberry Festival. Her new hog is too big to showcase, but it'll do just fine as a pet.
"I jumped out of bed and screamed," she said of finding out about her new hog. "I was excited we'd have another pig."
Kevin Smetana can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2439.