Horse Killings Have Rural South Florida on Edge

"The reason we know it's becoming an issue is that there are people living in rural areas who are having people drive up to them at their homes or on the street and asking if they want to buy horse meat... There are reports from a few of the law enforcement agencies out of Broward County saying the meat's going for up to $40 per pound," Couto said.

"Many people in the U.S. think horse slaughtering is only being done in Mexico and Canada.....slaughter and the black market trade is alive and well in Miami," he added.

According to Couto, some local ethnic groups believe that eating the horse meat is a cure-all.

"Miami-Dade is a melting pot and there are a lot of cultures here where it's OK to eat horse meat... Some nationalities think it helps with some ailments. They think that AIDS patients will be cured and will recover quicker if they eat horse meat. This is not true," Couto said.

Not only is the horse meat not a wonder drug like some falsely believe, but the meat being harvested is contaminated.

"These horses are being seen by vets on a monthly basis. Tranquilizers and even just a basic fly spray all are labeled not to be used on animals to be used in the food chain. People are spending a lot of money on contaminated meat that's going to make them sick," said Couto.

Miami-Dade Not Just a Beach Community

Though most think of palm trees and night clubs when they think of Miami, Couto paints a different picture.

"Miami-Dade isn't only about the beach and the sand," said Couto. "The majority of Miami is more in rural areas and our horse population is extremely high. It's the second most populated horse state in the country. It's horse country," he added.

Gustinger said local horse owners have taken up arms to protect their beloved pets.

"The horse community is getting edgy and very upset," Gustinger told ABC News. "We've started community watches, people are patrolling their yards with guns to the point where some of the horse owners are looking forward to it. They're starting to hunt these people... they want it stopped," she added.

"The fear that is in place right now for anyone that owns a horse in South Florida... people are having a hard time sleeping, worried that when they wake up in the morning they'll find a massacre in their barn," Couto said.

The Humane Society Society of the United States is offering a reward of $2,500 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for these horrific acts.

"If the meat is being sold for consumption, that would be in violation of federal law," the Human Society's Dane told ABC News.

"These are alarming events that we're hoping the authorities will be able to stop and that they will be able to track down and find the perpetrators and prosecute them under state animal cruelty laws," he added.

Losing 'Family Members' a Shock

Gustinger organized a rally last Saturday night at the Homestead Rodea Arena. It was her way of trying to involve not only the area's horse owners, but the entire community to prevent any more unlawful horse killings.

"We're trying to say as a community that this is not acceptable... this isn't how we want to live," Gustinger added. "We're not turning a blind eye to this anymore because it just keeps happening."

In addition to the shocking brutality of the deaths, Couto pointed out that losing horses has also been emotionally traumatic for the owners.

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