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Riverview horse-rescue operation denies neglect charge

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image An April 3 photo of one of the horses taken from RVR Horse Rescue. Photo Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

RVR contends the animals were on a feeding program to slowly build up their weight.

A Riverview animal rescue group for abused horses stands accused of not taking care of two horses placed in its care by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

The two horses, given to RVR Horse Rescue on Hayes Clan Road in January after the Sheriff’s Office said they were abused by their previous owners, were seized by detectives last week.

RVR vehemently denies the charges and claims it followed a veterinarian’s instructions in caring for the horses.

“This is a big misunderstanding,” said Robert Herce, RVR’s attorney. “The Sheriff’s Office should never have seized those horses. The personnel at RVR were doing exactly what their vets told them to do. They were being fed, groomed, bathed and getting a lot of love.”

A court awarded custody of the two horses to the Sheriff’s Office earlier this year following an animal-neglect hearing sparked by an investigation by HCSO agriculture detectives. The horses were donated to RVR Jan. 26.

“On April 2, a detective from the Sheriff’s Office agriculture unit went to RVR Horse Rescue to see the progress of the horses,” said a Sheriff’s Office report. “The detective was alarmed to find that the horses, an Arabian mare and a Tennessee Pinto mare, were grossly underweight and apparently malnourished.”

The report continued: “The detective consulted with a supervisor, and against the objections of RVR Horse Rescue personnel, the horses were taken from the rescue and transported to a Sheriff’s Office facility.”

Both horses were examined by a veterinarian, who confirmed that they were malnourished and had gained little or no weight in the time they were cared for by RVR Horse Rescue.

A second veterinarian, from the University of Florida, confirmed the original diagnosis and the veterinarians informed detectives that the horses should have gained a pound or more a day if fed and cared for properly, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

RVR contends the animals were on a feeding program to slowly build up their weight.

“When you get a horse that has been malnourished for a long period of time, just like a human that has been starved, you can’t put a big steak in front of them,” said Herce, RVR’s attorney. “You have to feed them very small amounts of food several times a day, and as time goes on you increase the amounts and decrease the frequency.” 

RVR will contest any neglect charges when the case goes before a judge April 30, Herce said.

“We are very disturbed by these allegations,” Herce said. “It’s been a shock to everyone and something we just don’t understand.”

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