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CBS4 Investigates: Severe Animal Cruelty

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Michele-Gillen-600x450 Michele Gillen
Michele Gillen is chief investigative reporter at WFOR-TV, Mi...
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I-Team

MIAMI (CBS4) – On videotape, they sound like the screams of a baby. And they are. But in this case, what you hear are the cries of a baby goat.

The undercover video shows a trembling goat with its front legs hog tied being put into a sack. The goat was being purchased by animal rights activist Richard Couto who, undercover, had visited this Hialeah property and claimed he wanted to buy the goat to kill in a ritual.

CBS4 News finds that the story of this baby goat and the man who rescued it opens a window into a world across Florida of extreme animal cruelty and torture.

“They are killing all the animals with sledge hammers, axes, knives, they are stabbing them to death, they are boiling the animals alive, they are drowning them, strangling them to death,” Couto tells Chief Investigator Michele Gillen as they review videos and pictures he and his team have  taken across the state.

In the world of animal rights and rescue, Richard Couto is considered a renegade. Spending days,- sometimes weeks, infiltrating and living undercover on ranches and  farms – scouring railroad tracks to back alleys to provide authorities with proof of what he says is happening to animals in Florida.

“The state of Florida is by far the extreme animal abuse capital of the United States. Horrible, Horrible things go on in this State that most of the public is unaware of,” he tells Gillen.

Jeanette Jordan, President of the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Animal Abuse agreed. On rating Florida, she describes it as, “number one in the nation. And it’s ironic because we have the strongest animal cruelty laws in the nation but they are not enforced.”

From the kidnapping and torture of pets, from dogs to horses, to the live butchering of animals for food or sacrifice, Jordan, believes the public would be shocked if they could see the true images of what is going on, images that can’t be shown on television.

“We are not talking about somebody didn’t feed their dog. We are talking horrendous slaughter of animals, not just horses but pigs and sheep and goats and they slaughter them in the most inhumane manner possible. And we have laws to prevent that,” said Jordan.

Inroads in the fight are being made, said Jordan, because of Couto and his aggressive campaign- forcing the bad guys out of the shadows.

“He can do the things that I can’t do. He can go out and find these abusers and these slaughterers,” said Jordon who met Couto four years ago when he first volunteered with her organization. On one of his first rescue missions they came upon a starved horse, tied to a slaughter tree.

Couto adopted him and brought him back to health. The horse, named Freedom’s Flight, turned out to be a former racing star and his rescue inspired Couto to create his organization, the Animal Rescue Mission, A.R.M.

A focus of the mission now includes the rescue of beloved pets.

“We have a serious pet problem of missing pets, domestic pets, people are jumping over fences, taking dogs and selling them for sacrifice.”

In the case of a therapy dog named Black Jack,the theft appears to have been motivated by illegal dog fighting. Black Jack is the beloved pet of Air Force Veteran Robert Moreland. Moreland was at a Home Depot in Miramar when he says the dog was  kidnapped from his car. Black Jack was discovered north of Palm Beach with a slashed neck, a chain and raw meat around his neck. It’s suspected, he was stolen  to be used in illegal dog fights. Somehow Black jack escaped. Other animals are not so fortunate.

And that’s why for Couto walking away is not an option.

“How could I live with myself knowing that these issues are out there and there are very few people out there confronting them, it would be impossible to live with myself. We are having an effect. Things are changing.”

Meanwhile, the little goat Couto rescued is doing well, living on a farm in upstate Florida. That rescue was followed by a raid and Florida authorities have charged the men behind the operation with running an illegal slaughterhouse and animal cruelty. They are expected to stand trial in upcoming months.

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