Horse's death has neighbors upset with Lake County Animal Services

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. - The death of a horse has sparked a criminal investigation in Lake County. Now some rescue groups are pushing for changes before any other animals die.

Around the corner from Melonie Helton's Clermont home there is a sandy lot, the pen for a horse.

"I noticed they weren't being fed. They looked really unhealthy," said Helton.

She said there were two horses. Melonie took pictures. She said she is sure that one of the horses, down on the ground, starved to death.

Helton and a neighbor, who wanted to remain anonymous, blame Lake County Animal Services for not taking the horse away from the owner.

"They need to be very aggressive about it. They need to follow up. They needed to take that horse before it died," said Helton.

Both women said the county drags its feet on cruelty cases.

The county does seize animals in some neglect cases.

The neighbors in Clermont want animal services to do something with the other horse soon. They are afraid that it, too, could die.

Interim Animal Services Director Jim Stivender said the case had been under investigation for months and it was a tough call.

"Seems like you made the wrong call this time," Channel 9's Berndt Petersen said to Stivender.

"It was a difficult call and apparently the animal died. We just don't know what from," said Stivender.

But Helton said she believes she knows, and she wants more action from the county.

"We just want the animals to be cared for and look after. That's what they're there for," said Helton.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating the case.

As for the remaining horse, the county is giving the owner 14 days to provide better care or steps may be taken to seize it.

The owners were not at home when Channel 9 stopped by for comment.