Joe Arpaio's Headless Horse to Be Buried; Horse Group Picks Fight with State Representative Over Blame

Will Dotty now be able to rest in peace? Or will the bickering over her remains continue?
Will Dotty now be able to rest in peace? Or will the bickering over her remains continue?
Stephen Lemons

About four months too late, Dotty the wild Salt River horse, left to rot headless on a sandy bank by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's crack team of animal investigators, finally will be buried this weekend by a group of spade-wielding volunteers.

Simone Netherlands, president of the non-profit Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, says her organization recently received permission from the U.S. Forest Service to plant Dotty's now-desiccated carcass below ground.

"We don't do anything without their authorization," Netherlands told New Times. "Now that we have their authorization, we will be burying [Dotty] this Saturday."

The Forest Service has not yet responded to a request for confirmation that it has authorized the burial of the animal, which is mostly skin, bone, and hooves, at this point.

Netherlands' statement comes after a recent New Times column, which observed that the horse's carcass has lain decomposing for months in a heavily trafficked area of the Tonto National Forest. This, after the MCSO neglected to move the carcass following a necropsy performed by local vets in October.

But the announcement has been marred by a blame-game, with Netherlands pointing the finger at state Representative Kelly Townsend, accusing her of responsibility for Dotty's poor condition.

In an interview this week with ABC Channel 15, Netherlands claimed her group had not previously removed the body because at one point, Townsend and others erected plastic orange fencing around the horse, allegedly preventing nature from taking its course.

"Kelly Townsend went and put the orange fencing around Dotty and the predators couldn't get to it," Netherlands told ABC 15.

Townsend responded to the allegations via a statement posted to her Facebook page, which explained that Dotty's carcass had been in the water for at least a week before the fencing was erected, "out of respect for the horse, and for the visitors" to the area.

She further writes that,

...myself and a few others brought rebar and orange fencing down to the river and protected the area so she was out of view of the `unsuspecting.' We left the side of the fence closest to the river elevated two feet so that coyotes could get under, and the top was open for any vulture who may be interested. However, in the unnatural state of the horse having had been in the river for a week, putrid and covered in sand, the animals were not taking care of it.

When New Times visited the Tonto National Forest's Coon Bluff recreation area in January, the orange fencing in question had been removed. All that separated Dotty's remains from the environment were a couple of rebar posts.

Netherlands told New Times that normally her group "does not bury wild animals," but that it was doing so now because predators "are no longer interested in the dried up remains."

The 12- year-old mare was discovered October 1 by members of Netherlands' non-profit as it floated lifeless in the Salt River near the Coon Bluff campsite. The MCSO, which has a substation nearby, was notified.

State Representatives Kelly Townsend and Jay Lawrence at a Republican event in January.EXPAND
State Representatives Kelly Townsend and Jay Lawrence at a Republican event in January.
Stephen Lemons

SRWHMG members reported bullet holes in the horse's head and body, but the MCSO initially was content to leave the matter to the U.S. Forest Service, according to a recently released MCSO report.

Pressure from equine enthusiasts and Representative Townsend forced the MCSO's hand. Detectives with the sheriff's animal-crimes unit took air boats to the area where Dotty floated, legs up.

Dotty's head was removed by MCSO deputies and the carcass left drifting in the water, the report states.

The following day, the MCSO contacted a vet about examining the skull, only to discover that this vet and another were en route to Coon Bluff to examine the carcass, at the request of Townsend.

The MCSO accompanied the vets and moved Dotty's decapitated body to the Salt River's south bank, where the vets performed a necropsy, finding the body to be that of a "well nourished" female, sans head. 

"The remains of the horse were left on the beach to be disposed of," reads the report. 

The MCSO later delivered the head to one of the vets for examination. The actual necropsy report has yet to be released. 

Despite an $8,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of Dotty's killer, the MCSO's report states that the investigation into the horse's death has been "inactive" since November.

The MCSO recently confirmed to New Times that all leads in the case have been "exhausted."

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