Go undercover with Animal Recovery Mission

Richard Couto investigates illegal horse slaughterhouses in Florida

SOUTHWEST RANCHES, Fla. - Go undercover with the founder of the Animal Recovery Mission, who has dedicated himself to eliminating severe animal cruelty.

"We are going in basically dressed as construction workers with HD hidden cameras on us," said Richard Couto with the Animal Recovery Mission.

Couto is on a mission to save animals, especially horses, from illegal slaughter. He has already uncovered slayings in Miami-Dade County's C9 Basin and now is working in Tampa.

"These are people not just selling the meat illegally, un-inspected by the USDA, but they are butchering the animals alive," said Couto. "Gutting with foot-long blades. They are boiling the animals alive. They are hanging them. Really brutal, brutal stuff on in front of children."

Much of the undercover video Couto provided to Local 10 is too disturbing to show. He said he saw wild mustangs, which are federally protected, being prepared for slaughter in some places.

His undercover work helped police arrest Jorge Felix Ortega, who is charged with illegally selling horse meat. But Couto said law enforcement in Hillsborough County are often turning a blind eye to the slaughterhouses.

Last year, the Florida Legislature passed the Humane Slaughter Act. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing horse slaughterhouse owners under that law.

Couto has his own horse, Freedom Flight, which is related to Secretariat. Freedom Flight broke his leg in the Florida Derby and Couto found him in an illegal slaughterhouse in South Miami. Couto said the horse has received death threats.

To date, Couto has shut down dozens of illegal slaughterhouses, many in South Florida, but said the economy allows slaughterhouses to easily find horses.

"They are getting horses from Craigslist. People are giving friends of theirs horses because they can't afford to feed them any longer, thinking that they are going to good homes and they are going right to the slaughter houses," said Couto.

Couto's non-profit organization is now branching out throughout Florida in an effort to stop illegal slaughterhouses.

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