Lope M. González 18 horses transported from FL to Puerto Rico inhumanely by shipping company Optical People Inc. Canóvanas, Puerto Rico May 12, 2008

Camarero Race Track veterinarian Dr. José García Blanco unloaded 18 horses from a cramped shipping van after a 4-day trip from Jacksonville, Fla., only to find that all of the animals needed emergency medical attention.

Some of the horses had cracked their heads while others had to receive stitches after being unloaded from the van that arrived at the barn area of the race track in Canóvanas.

"In my 24 years as a veterinarian I have never seen this kind of animal cruelty ," said García. "What puzzles me is how they loaded these horses into this tight van."

García called local police to denounce the treatment of the animals and was pressing charges against Optical People Inc., which shipped the horses from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.

García said the horses arrived in a state of high distress due to the inhumane conditions.

A groom went to García's aid when it proved impossible for the veterinarian to unload the horses on his own.

"We started at 11:30 a.m. and it took about three hours to finish the job," said García. "Some of them required stitches to their heads and others on their legs."

The horses were bought in Ocala, Fla. by various island horse owners.

"I have never seen animal cruelty like this," said public trainer Frank Santillana, who had three horses shipped from Jacksonville.

García called Dr. Iván Pérez from the Racing Administration Office, who went to the barn area to confirm the animal cruelty on the part of the shipping company. No representative of Optical People Inc. was present when the horses were unloaded, García said.

Members of the Camarero Race Track management were outraged when they were alerted to the condition of the horses.  "The track management is upset and is investigating deeper into the matter," said García.

García said he suspected that animal cruelty by the shipping company had occurred on other occasions and went unnoticed.

"We can't allow this situation to happen under any circumstances; that's why I'm pressing charges," he said.

Update 5/15/08:  The head veterinarian at Camarero race track filed an animal cruelty complaint with police after some horses in a shipment of 18 from Jacksonville, Fla., required medical attention upon being unloaded here.

18 horses were unloaded at the barn area of the race track from a two-level shipping van after a four-day trip from Jacksonville, Fla., with the assistant of García Blanco. The horses are 2-year-old and up imports.

García Blanco filed the complaint after finding that some of the horses required stitches and medical attention. A video provided by the veterinarian shows some horses banging their heads against the ceiling of a van while been unloaded. The video shows how tight the space was for the horses.

Lope M. González, CEO of Optical People Inc., and his attorney, Hiram Pagani, went to the Canóvanas police station to respond to the complaint filed by Dr. José García Blanco.

González said the rented shipping van was modified from a cattle carrier, when this company's van broke down a few days prior to the shipment to Puerto Rico.

"When our horse shipping van broke down, we needed to rent a shipping van urgently, and it was given the go ahead by the federal Agriculture Department and met with all the shipping requirements," González said from his office in Florida.

González told the police that the horses traveled with three grooms to feed and water them. He also said that Dr. Alejandro Pérez, chief veterinarian of the Agriculture Department in Puerto Rico, found the horses in good health and gave the go ahead to deliver the horses to their owners at the race track.

The horses were bought in Ocala, Fla., at an April 23 auction by several island owners who went to the barn area to receive their horses.

Rufino Rodríguez, owner of the Louisiana Stable, said that his horses had minor injuries and one had a fever, but in general the horses where fine.  "The horses were able to be unloaded thanks to the intervention of García Blanco," said Rodríguez, a horse owner for more than 30-years.

The horses had to be unloaded with a head protector to avoid injury. One horse required stitches, and others had to be sedated to avoid major injuries.

"A head protector had to be used to unload the horses, who arrived in a state of high distress due to the inhumane conditions created by the tight quarter's inside the van," García Blanco said.

The horse owners, forced to reduce operation expenses, hired Optical People, Inc., to transport the horses to Puerto Rico by ship at $750 per horse, compared with the $2,000 per horse air fare from a local transporter.

González said that the matter had been blown out of proportion, stating that the horses owners have not claimed any wrongdoing by his shipping company.


The San Juan Star