RIP, Silver | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

RIP, Silver

Just in case we needed further proof that the Wild West is at last defunct, the Sun-Sentinel ran a picture on November 12 of a crammed West Palm Beach landfill with a dead horse laid out amid the trash. No explanation of where the horse, freshly dumped and still wearing its bridle, had come from or why it was there.

For Tailpipe, it seemed a touchingly ignoble end for a noble beast. Far better to be dispatched the way movie cowboys used to do it. You'll remember how mortally injured nags were put out of their misery with a swift coup de grâce from a Colt .45 (offscreen, of course) and then presumably left out on the Southwest desert as buzzard food. (In one old movie, the 'Pipe recalls, the cowboy actually buried his dead horse, though there presumably wasn't enough celluloid in Hollywood to film him single-handedly digging that enormous pit.)

The horse occupies a special place in American hearts. Loyal animal, symbol of frontier freedom, whinnying quadruped at the front of cavalry charges, magnificent beast — Tailpipe could go on. The point is that Americans have never stood by indifferently when our hoofed friends were disrespected or treated cruelly. Little girls everywhere are still ready to join forces to save Black Beauty from brutalization in the harness of a draycart. A couple of months ago, the House of Representatives rose up and passed a bill to block the slaughter of horses as food and the exportation of horse flesh for human consumption.

On the spectrum of palatability, though, is sending Hi-ho Silver's body overseas as stew meat any worse than dumping his pathetic body in the garbage?

It's a problem, folks. There are 9.2 million horses in the United States. They're all going to die sooner or later.

The man with the answers in South Florida is Butch Lowe. For 40 years, this Loxahatchee hauler has been earning his keep by transporting dead horses (and other animals) to one of three destinations: the University of Florida veterinary school, a handful of horse graveyards, or the landfill. The graveyards are for the horses of the really well-to-do, and the veterinary school is for the medically unusual (like racehorses who collapse midrace). The vast majority go to the Solid Waste Authority dump in West Palm Beach.

"A lot of people can't afford $3,000 to get their horse cremated," Lowe says in his friendly North Carolina cotton farmer's accent.

It wasn't always this way. Back when the custom was to put horses down with a bullet, Lowe hauled and sold the dead bodies to South Florida rendering plants and Lion Country Safari. But sometime in the mid '80's, people starting getting the idea that horses might prefer to go gently, he says. Pardner, despite what the movies show, shootin' a horse is loud and messy business. So horse owners started taking their dying charges to veterinarians, who injected them with lethal doses of anesthesia.

As pleasant a way to go as that must be, the chemicals in the horses' bodies meant that rendering plants (which boiled the corpses down to a soupy mix for soap) couldn't take them anymore, and lions that ate the meat got some wicked bellyaches. Finally, Lowe could no longer sell the horses as pet food, and he was nearly out of a job.

But horse owners still needed someone to haul those bodies away, and they were willing to pay for the service. Lowe's entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, and he went to work again. By now, Lowe is the big cheese in a veritable cottage industry. Working alone (his trucks have winches), he hauls three or four equine bodies a day (sometimes as many as seven) at $100 a pop.

So how come poor Silver gets taken to the dump much more often than even to the crematorium? "That's the almighty dollar talkin'," Lowe says, with the sang-froid of someone accustomed to handling the dead.

Tailpipe looks at the newspaper picture and, like Iron Eyes Cody watching his homeland being polluted with trash, feels a single tear coursing down his rusty cheek.

In Recognition of What?

Forehead-smackin' bulletin of the day: Mara Giulianti was a finalist for the Florida League of Cities' Mayor of the Year Award. How sweet it would have been to pull that one off. It would be hard to find a mayor in this scandal-plagued state who has had a worse year.

As New Times articles (most recently, "Hooray for Hollywood," Thomas Francis, November 16) have shown, Giulianti's Hollywood is careering toward anarchy. She bet her city's financial future on a real estate boom that's since gone bust. Taxes are high, yet city services are still suffering. The city has lost a series of major court cases. And most recently, Giulianti ally Commissioner Keith Wasserstrom was arrested and charged with corruption. A key piece of evidence in that case, Giulianti's home computer, crashed before investigators could get hold of it, a scenario that invites speculation that Giulianti herself may be vulnerable to obstruction-of-justice charges.

Of course, those details didn't make it into the application packet put together by Alison Hibbert, who as the city's public relations and information manager is paid to support Mara's mission.

"Mayor Giulianti exemplifies high moral standards and an impeccable reputation for being honest and true to herself, her city, and her constituents," Hibbert wrote.

The packet contains some randomly complimentary articles, such as one from the Sun-Sentinel's "Hollywood Close-Up" series, as well as one from the Miami Herald's "Neighbors" section. New Times' extensive reporting on Hollywood politics was not included.

It should be noted, however, that a number of New Times articles did make it into the packet of documents that constitute the corruption case against Wasserstrom.

Postscript: The league came to its senses and gave the award to Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Feathered Friend

Strolling past the hydroponic lettuce at the Lake Worth green market on a recent Saturday afternoon, the 'Pipe came face to face with something that might have been horrifying.

In the arms of a young woman. On a leash. A skunk!

For those enmeshed in the world of rare pets and those who checked out Jeff Stratton's cover story "Off the Leash" three weeks ago, it may be obvious that the skunk was descented — a common practice performed on skunks destined for pethood. But the majority of the green market crowd was ignorant of the skunk pet phenomenon, and soon a circle of interrogators had formed.

"What is that?" "Is it a ferret?" "Is it a cat?" "What's its name?" "Where'd you get it?" "What does it eat?" Meghan Mayo, 26, of Lantana, politely answered all of these questions.

"It's a skunk," she repeated for maybe the 20th time that day. It's name is Sway. It came from a pet store, and the pet store got it from a fur factory. It loves hot peppers, gum, and cottage cheese. It hates broccoli. It sleeps in a shorts drawer.

When the inevitable "why" is raised, Mayo is prepared. Her husband, Devon Mayo, is allergic to cats. In fact, he was opposed to any kind of pet, but Mayo, the daughter of a lumberjack, grew up raising raccoons in upstate New York. She has always been fascinated with unusual pets. They rock-paper-scissored, and a skunk it was.

"She's a good pet," Mayo's husband conceded as the skunk leaned over and licked the side of his berry smoothie cup. It's sort of a demure little skunk, and soon the novelty wore off. The crowd began to dwindle, but then an inquisitive older lady approached. She got so close to the furry animal that they were practically nose to nose.

"Is that a bird?" she asked.

— As told to Edmund Newton