THE REDLAND

Rustlers target Dade Ranches
Police are warning horse, cattle owners to look out for thieves
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By Brooke Prescott bprescott@herald.com

Redland isn't exactly the lone prairie, but police say some Wild West-style horse and cattle rustlers are raiding ranches there -- and some of the snatched animals are winding up dead.

And while Dade police haven't exactly formed a posse to hunt the thieves, they are warning horse and heifer owners to be extra cautious.

One of the latest victims is one of Miami-Dade's own, Lt. Norberto Blanco. He lost his horse, Pinto, to rustlers June 17.

There were six other horses in the barn when the crooks came in, but only Pinto was horse-napped. ''He was the one that stood out,'' Blanco said. ``He was a beautiful horse.''

Of the six horses and five cows that have been stolen over the last year, three of the horses have been found -- one alive and two dead. One of the cows also turned up dead.


Jared Lazarus/Hreald Staff

Detectives say they aren't sure why the animals were killed, but others from the area say food is one possibility being explored.

The thieves have struck between noon and 6 a.m., mostly at isolated pastures or barns between Southwest 120th and 344th streets and 177th to 217th avenues.

''There's no certain type of horse being stolen,'' said Detective David Zimmerman of the South Regional Agricultural Patrol Unit.

55,000 STOLEN PER YEAR

Investigators also believe there are more thefts then they are aware of.

''We're assuming that many cases are going unreported, and we don't know why,'' Zimmerman said. ``It makes it hard to determine a pattern.''

Although police say this latest rash of rustling is uncommon, there are about 55,000 horses stolen each year in the United States, according to Stolen Horse International, a nonprofit organization that specializes in finding the missing animals.

''Horse theft is so easy, so many look alike,'' said Debi Metcalfe, founder of Stolen Horse.

One of the first victims in this recent stretch of thefts was Norman, a 4-year-old thoroughbred gelding that disappeared from a barn in Redland in May 2003.

''He was a racehorse and very friendly,'' said owner Mary Bonnen. ``[He] was not insured, and I think people thought he was.''

At his prime, Norman was valued at approximately $70,000. But after an injury put him out of the racing market, his value declined to about $15,000.

The value of the horses that have been stolen ranges from $800 to $15,000. For the cows, it's about $200 to $1,000.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

Police and Metcalfe offered some suggestions for keeping the animals safer. Both agreed the most important is identification marks, such as tattoos and freeze brands.

''Once [a horse] hits the trading market, they're not kept up like they're used to,'' Metcalfe said, stressing the importance of the freeze brand. ``Two months down the road, they can look like an entirely different horse.''

There are two types of freeze brands, a bleached brand and a bald brand, Metcalfe said.

Both types involve killing the horse hair follicles, but with the bleached brand, the hair grows back white.

The bald brand gives the same look as a hot brand without using an iron.

(Just a note on corrections: Debi didn't say people used bleached brands to ID horses or a bald brand gives the same look as a hot brand without using an iron. The reporter must have misunderstood. Other than those two mistakes this is a good article for alerting the public in the Dade County area and for education on theft.
Cory Laton-Metcalfe
(Stolen Horse International - www.netposse.com)

Microchipping is another precaution urged by police and Metcalfe.

The chip is the size of a grain of rice, and is injected into the horse's neck with a syringe. When it is scanned, a number pops up.

If the chip is registered, the owner's information will also be available, Metcalfe said.

The cost of microchips can range from $12 to $120.

Other tips offered by police were adequate lighting and smaller spacing between fence poles to prevent horse trailers from driving through them.

''If you see a horse being loaded on the side of the road,'' said Metcalfe, ``don't assume it belongs to the person loading it.''

Stolen Horse International - www.netposse.com

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