Awaking before dawn Wednesday to the sound of his neighbor's horses being attacked, Stephan Leoni, 25, grabbed his handgun and ran outside.
Shining a flashlight toward the noise, Leoni, an off-duty Collier County civilian community service deputy, spotted three pit bulls mauling the horses at his neighbor's home on 22nd Avenue Northeast in Golden Gate Estates. He fired at the dogs one at a time, until all three went down.
The early morning incident left the three dogs dead and the horses, Luna and April, with injuries to their necks, legs and eyes. After an investigation by the Sheriff's Office and Domestic Animal Services, the dogs' owner, 33-year-old Marisel Perez, was cited for three counts of allowing her dogs to run at large and three counts of animal trespassing with damage.
Leoni and the horses' owner, 34-year-old Nahamani "Manny" Ortega, were not reprimanded.
Florida statutes allow people to kill a dog if the dog was causing great harm to another animal. Another law holds dog owners liable for any damages their dog causes.
"It's OK to shoot a dog if the dog is injuring or killing livestock," said Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Krista Williamson.
Daniel Christenbury, a spokesman for Domestic Animal Services, said the agency had no record of prior incidents between Ortega's and Perez's animals.
Reports said Ortega had previously asked his neighbor Leoni to help watch over his home and his horses. Leoni attempted to call Ortega before shooting the dogs, but the call went to voice mail, according to the reports.
Deputies said the pit bulls entered a hole in a fenced area where the horses were kept. Although reports said the horses were being treated for their injuries, attempts to reach Ortega for an update on their condition were unsuccessful.
When deputies broke the news to Perez, the dogs' owner, "she was very upset at the fate that became of her dogs as well as the damage that they did," according to reports. In a brief phone conversation Thursday, Perez said she had spent all day trying to pick up the deceased dogs from the animal shelter. She said she was too distraught to talk.