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Southwest Ranches considers tough law on horse abusers

Southwest Ranches, where horses, cyclists and joggers share the miles of trails weaving through town, is poised to approve one of the toughest equine protection laws in the state.

The law, named after an 8-year-old former racehorse named Marco which was found butchered, would impose a minimum $5,000 fine and up to one year in jail on anyone who kills, maims, mutilates, or causes harm or permanent disability to any horse.

The Town Council will vote on the proposal at its Thursday meeting.

“Everyone needs to know that this is an equestrian community and we take it very seriously,” said Southwest Ranches Mayor Jeff Nelson, who is sponsoring Marco’s Law. “This scenario is not tolerated.”

Indeed, Southwest Ranches is known for its dozens of miles of horse trails, equestrian parks, a show ring and even artwork that doubles as a water fountain for horses. Ranches and farms populate the 13-square-mile town.

The thoroughbred’s owner, Suso Sangiao-Parga, reported Marco missing from his barn at Just Perfect Landscaping the morning of Aug. 18. The slats in his paddock had been removed, leading investigators to believe the horse had been stolen.

The remains were discovered in a secluded spot just a quarter-mile from Sandiao-Parga’s property. According to published reports, the horse’s heart had been punctured, his throat slashed, and his hind quarters and two large sections of his back had been removed.

It is the only case of illegal horse slaughter in Southwest Ranches, the town said.

Although it is illegal to buy or sell horse meat in Florida, it does sell on the black market for about twice the price of beef. There are some cultures that believe eating horse meat will bring them strength.

“Horse meat is a lean meat, and people with heart disease think it will cure them or make them less sick because it’s so lean,” said Laurie Waggoner, director of operations at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Horse meat, she said, costs about $8 a pound, compared to an average of less than $4 a pound for beef.

Sangiao-Parga rescued Marco after the race horse broke his leg several years ago. At the time, Marco was on the verge of being exported to another country to be slaughtered for his meat.

“Have you ever had a pet that’s just special? That was Marco to me,” said Sangiao-Parga. “He was a pet more than anything.”