Stephen Lemons Column

Dead Salt River Horse Dotty: Joe Arpaio's Deputies Left Her Headless Corpse to Rot

Something's rotten in Coon Bluff, thanks to Sheriff Joe and the MCSO.

That something is the headless carcass of Dotty, one of the famed Salt River wild horses, found on October 1, shot to death and floating in the river near Coon Bluff, a heavily trafficked part of the Tonto National Forest popular with campers, tubers, photographers, and picnickers.

Reportedly, the 12-year-old mare had been shot four times, three times in the head and once in the body.

The Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the animals, suggested that the shooting of Dotty "could have been someone attempting a mercy kill if the horse was injured," or it may have been "someone with cruel intent."

Despite photos taken by passers-by showing what seemed to be obvious bullet holes in Dotty's noggin, the Sheriff's Office initially was unconvinced of foul play and issued an October 5 press release saying as much.

Days later, the MCSO reversed itself, stating in an October 15 press release that a necropsy of the animal done by a veterinarian "showed that the horse had been killed by gunshot" and had been healthy before the shooting.

Arpaio, supposed defender of four-legged beasts, eventually offered an $8,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of Dotty's killer.

"We will follow every lead," the sheriff promised at the time, "[and] make every effort to find the suspect and bring justice to Dotty's death."

Four months later, the investigation hasn't budged an inch, and neither has Dotty's desiccated, decapitated form, which remains on the sandy banks of the Salt River, a large gaping hole where its head used to be.

Seems Arpaio's beige-shirts lopped off the head and left the blackened, bloated body to rot, inundating the area for weeks with the smell of death and clouds of flies and other insects.

Arpaio's chief flack, Lisa Allen, tells me that the MCSO had no choice, that vets and other specialists told it to chop off the horse's head so that it could be "taken to a facility for the necropsy."

Allen, who is retiring February 2 after 23 years as a spokeswoman for the MCSO, claims deputies had no choice but to leave behind the carcass, which already was in an advanced state of decomposition.

"Anytime an animal dies in the forest, we don't do anything with it," she says. "We kind of let the circle of life thing happen."

Which might be fine, if there was nothing around but other critters. Thing is, on a weekend, Coon Bluff is hoppin' with humanity, some of whom have traveled to the spot to watch living Salt River horses as they munch on green undergrowth or drink from the Salt River's gentle current.

"I know it's probably disgusting," she conceded, in regards to the carcass. "But there was going to be money involved in moving the thing. So we let nature take its course."

Republican state Representative Kelly Townsend is a passionate defender of the wild horses, which have been fought over since the U.S. Forest Service announced last year that it planned to round up the noble equines, regarded as pests by some, and turn them over to the Arizona Department of Agriculture.

Why don't horse lovers rise up and kick Sheriff Joe Arpaio's (metaphorical) fanny over the treatment of Dotty's carcass?

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Conservationists, horse lovers, and politicians of both parties opposed the roundup. The outcry forced a retreat by the Forest Service, which called off the transfer indefinitely.

Townsend mentioned Dotty's carcass during a recent interview with my colleague, New Times staff writer Elizabeth Stuart, regarding pending legislation offered by the Republican stalwart, which would place the horses under the authority of the state of Arizona.

The representative told Stuart that she and her children put up fencing around the carcass to block the animal's body from the view of the public and give it some dignity.

"This is not a problem for me and my teenagers to take care of," Townsend said. "She ought to have been removed."

Interestingly, Townsend and Arpaio are political allies, and Townsend helped raise much of the money that's offered as an award for Dotty's killer.

Carrie Templin, the Tonto National Forest spokeswoman, told me that the agency has received complaints about the carcass, but she says there also are groups that do not want the carcass moved.

In the past, when a horse has been struck by a vehicle on a county road, the MCSO has had contractors pick up the body, according to Templin.

She maintains that the Forest Service has no policy of any kind toward the horses, other than it sees the living animals as "unauthorized livestock," which it has the authority to gather and remove.

Asked whose responsibility it is to remove a horse carcass from a public area, Templin was unsure.

"I don't think we know the answer," she says.

On a recent Sunday outing to Coon Bluff, I found that the fencing around Dotty's carcass previously erected by Townsend was gone, except for a few thin, steel rebar posts.

The carcass had little flesh remaining and no longer smells, though it obviously is the remains of a horse. Someone had arranged stones in a reverential pattern around the body.

Campsite visitors were familiar with the carcass, able to point out the area where it lay.

One woman sitting in a lawn chair near the river told me that she didn't understand why the horse had never been disposed of.

"They take the trash away but leave a horse out here like that," she said. "Doesn't make much sense."

Although the body's removal might have been difficult in October, by this point, one person could get rid of it with a shovel and some garbage bags.

Plus, don't buy Lisa Allen's bull about the cost. That excuse seems pretty lame when you're spending the public's cash to investigate the death of a wild animal to begin with.

Just get a couple of those fat-ass MCSO deputies to drop the doughnuts and haul the damn thing away. Cost to the public? Zero.

Remember the outrage over how dog carcasses were treated by the caretakers of Gilbert's Green Acre Dog Boarding, where more than 20 canines died in 2014 after the facility's air conditioner went on the fritz?

You would have thought someone had skinned alive human babies the way Arpaio and his followers talked about it.

But when the shoe's on the other hoof, Arpaio's minions are so freaking lazy, they just cut off the horse's head and are done with it.

You can bet that if any other law enforcement agency was doing the same, Arpaio and the horse lovers would pitch one helacious fit. (Talk about a great publicity stunt, Lisa.)

And if that horse was rotting on private land, Arpaio would look at a way to charge the owner with something, anything.

As for the Joe-worshipping animal lovers, how dumb are you?

How willing are you to be used for political ends?

And why don't you rise up in indignation against Arpaio, if you really care about these horses so much?

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons