Dora the sheep once was the star at Out of the Ashes, a foundation that connects Miami inner-city children with nature. Soft and soothing, Dora was even registered as an emotional-support sheep.
But Dora and two other Barbados Blackbelly sheep like her are no more. They were killed by two men who broke into the foundation farm, corralled the animals and stabbed them until they bled to death.
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The criminal case against the intruders — who killed the sheep and then tried to steal their carcasses — concluded Thursday as a Miami judge sentenced the final defendant not to jail but to three years of probation for burglary and aggravated animal cruelty.
The man, Jose Reyes, 71, was ordered to pay $2,365 in restitution to the foundation, plus serve 250 hours of community service.
“This is not how we slaughter animals. Usually we stun them in the head and they are out of pain immediately,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Richard Hersch said.
Justice was nonetheless bittersweet.
“Dora was the last of our sheep that had natural instinct to come to a person that is in emotional crisis,” Out of the Ashes CEO Maria Springer told the judge. “We no longer have a sheep of the caliber of Dora.”
Out of Ashes was founded in 1996 as a way of introducing Miami schoolchildren to nature and animals. Among its programs: Children tend to chicken eggs in incubators, learn to fish, visit the farm to learn how to handle sheep, along with ducks, quail, hogs and horses. They also work the soil to grow plants and vegetables.
But in recent years, the program has been hard hit by burglars and would-be meat rustlers looking to steal animals. Their farm was located near Northwest 102nd Avenue and 138th Street, a rural stretch outside of Hialeah Gardens that is frequently targeted by people who traffic in South Florida’s black market for illegally slaughtered meat.
A few years back at the farm, somebody fatally stabbed a horse named Lyric but was unable to whisk away the body. Another intruder stabbed, but did not kill, a quarter horse named Cinnamon.
Exactly why the sheep were killed in August 2015 is unknown, although investigators believe the intruders wanted them for their flesh. Barbados Blackbelly sheep, short haired and able to live comfortably in the heat, are primarily raised for meat in the Caribbean.
The culprits: Robel Morales, 49, and Reyes, who parked their pickup truck next to the property, broke in and corralled Dora and the other sheep.
The knife thrusts ended up “causing them to die a slow death,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Carlos Macias told the judge on Thursday. “A sheep cannot defend itself.”
At trial, Macias and prosecutor David Chee said a police officer responding to a burglary call found one of the men placing a sheep carcass in the back of the pickup. Reyes was seated in the driver’s seat, a knife next to him. Two other carcasses were still on the property ready to be loaded.
Reyes told police that the truck had a flat tire, even though an officer noticed that none of the tires were flat. The men were charged with three counts of aggravated animal abuse and burglary of an unoccupied structure.
Morales accepted a plea bargain: In exchange for restitution and completing a program for first-time offenders, prosecutors dropped the charge.
But Reyes, a retired electrician who suffers from a host of ailments, rejected the same offer and took the case to trial in October, arguing that he had merely dropped off Morales and didn’t take part in the killings. He lost.
“He’s been a good person but he made a mistake,” defense lawyer Fan Li said.
As for Out of the Ashes, the constant break-ins forced the organization to move to a smaller rented farm.
“We need to raise funds to find a more permanent spot,” Springer said. “We need a bigger area.”