OKEECHOBEE — After the controversy surrounding the death of one horse and the near starvation of several others, Animal Control Officer Sgt. Arlene Durbin turned in her resignation on Sept. 23. In her resignation, she said she appreciated the opportunity she had to work for the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office for so long, but she was resigning effective Oct. 11 and would be signing up for retirement as soon as possible.
On Oct. 4, Ms. Durbin sent the sheriff a second letter asking him to consider revoking her resignation. She said she felt she’d made the decision in haste and would like to continue as part of the sheriff’s office. She also said she was willing to accept any position offered. With the exception of this one regrettable incident, she has had an unblemished record with the sheriff’s office for 20 years and has been an asset to the community. Therefore, on Oct. 11, she was reinstated as an employee with no rank and with a reduction in pay.
The starving horse investigation began when a woman, who called herself Lori, posted photos of starving horses online and told everyone she had reported the abuse to animal control numerous times but nothing was ever done. When Sheriff Stephen was contacted and informed about what was going on, he opened both a criminal investigation against the owner of the horses and an internal investigation to find out why, if the abuse was reported, nothing was done about it.
When Ms. Durbin resigned, the internal investigation was closed. The criminal investigation led to the arrest of Bobby Travis, who owned the horses. Now that Ms. Durbin has asked to revoke her resignation, the internal investigation has been reopened and all findings will be made available as soon as it is complete.
Sheriff Stephen said there is documentation that the horses in question were brought to the attention of animal control back in March 2019 and were dealt with every month thereafter. He knew nothing about it until everything blew up the weekend of Sept. 23. “Now the internal investigation will find out the who, what, whys and how comes. She has been put back on duty but with considerable ramifications on her reinstatement,” he said. Deputy Durbin is now a detention deputy and will be working in transport. She will have nothing to do with animal control.