Lois Henry

Saturday, Aug 03 2013 08:00 PM

LOIS HENRY: Dog torturing a sign of more violence to come

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    By Kern County Department of Public Health Services

    Lacey, a mixed breed, was tethered on a short leash to a tree, struck in the mouth with a golf club, had her eyes sprayed with bleach and was left there untreated for four days.

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    By Courtesy Bakersfield Police Department

    A photo of Lacey from the Bakersfield Police Department after she'd received medical help,

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Robert Gonzales when he was convicted in Kern County Superior Court of severely beating Lacey.

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By Lois Henry

For no particular reason, Robert "Bobby" Gonzales popped into my head the other day.

I wondered what Bakersfield's most notorious animal torturer had been up to in recent years.

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One good thing that came out of the Lacey case was that the Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation created an emergency medical fund for animals seized by law enforcement in cruelty cases.

Or, the foundation pays for animals at the shelter who need medical help beyond what the shelter can cover. Animals in either category must also have a place to relocate, such as foster, rescue or adoptive home after their treatment.

The outpouring of support for Lacey from around the world was so immense that her medical costs were easily covered.

The leftover money, plus continued donations, have gone to help 17 other dogs, three horses and one cat through the Lacey Fund.

Each animal had its own heartbreaking story of abuse and neglect. Some of the injuries were extreme, requiring hefty cash infusions from Friends.

You can read a few of the stories and see pictures of some animals that were saved on the Friends website: www.friendsofkernshelters.org.

The Lacey Fund is still going strong and accepting donations.

Donations can be mailed to Friends Foundation at P.O. Box 11494, Bakersfield, CA 93389, with "Lacey" in the memo line of checks.

Or people may donate through the Friends website. Just scroll to the bottom to find the "donate" button. Donors will need to write "Lacey" in the notes box when they make the donation.

Lacey, by the way, recovered from her injuries, is doing fine and was adopted by a loving family.

Plenty, unfortunately.

If you don't remember, Gonzales was convicted in the spring of 2011 of brutally torturing a 6-pound white terrier mix dog named Lacey.

He was given three years probation and ordered into counseling.

At the time, I wrote that the sentence was too light and didn't take into account "the link."

That's the link between animal cruelty and other forms of violence.

I was right.

A perusal of Gonzales' recent doings shows he escalated from animals to humans in pretty quick order.

The Gonzales tale exemplifies why animal cruelty must be taken much more seriously by society as it is often just a glimpse of what is likely a larger portrait of violence that could include spousal and child abuse.

Right off the bat, Gonzales couldn't, or wouldn't, abide by the terms of his probation.

He was ordered into alcohol/drug counseling as well as counseling with clinical psychologist Lorin Lindner under a program called AniCare, which specializes in treating animal abusers, court documents show.

That was in May of 2011. Within seven months he was back in court for skipping his counseling sessions, according to court documents. His probation was revoked and in February 2012, he was sentenced to jail for a year.

He served only four months. He got out in June 2012 and was put on an electronic ankle monitor.

Almost exactly a month later, he'd disabled the monitor and left his apartment, netting an escape charge on July 5, 2012.

That same day, he was punching a woman he had lived with in the face and threatening her and her adult son with a hunting knife.

In his notes, the detective on that case mentioned the Lacey cruelty case and wrote that Gonzales had left messages on the victim's cell phone telling her to "watch out" because "You know what I'm capable of."

He was charged with felony domestic violence and pleaded no contest, netting a sentence of 90 days in jail.

Less than two months after that jail term, on Jan. 11, 2013, he was back at the same woman's house, yanking her out of bed and jerking her around by her arms, according to the police report.

He was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and got about 250 days to be served concurrently with the sentence on his escape charge.

While neither the animal cruelty, nor the two domestic violence cases garnered him much time behind bars, that escape, boy, that got him into real trouble.

In late January of this year, Gonzales was sentenced to a year in Wasco State Prison for the escape.

With any luck, he may actually still be there.

I called psychologist Lindner to ask her thoughts on the Gonzales case. She hadn't forgotten him.

"I think of him every time I go to Bakersfield," she said. Lindner's office is in Frazier Park.

While she couldn't speak about Gonzales, specifically, Lindner did talk in general terms about the role animal abuse can play in other forms of violence.

"It's a similar landscape," she said. "Anything that's seen as smaller or weaker or is seen as a trigger or gets in way, gets aggressed against."

That can easily include children.

Kern County's justice system doesn't use programs like AniCare very often, she said. Part of the problem is there just aren't enough therapists trained in that type of treatment.

"I'm in Frazier Park and I've been called on a couple of cases, but we know there are far more" Lindner said.

Yes, but what I discovered looking through animal cruelty cases two years ago is that most are charged as misdemeanors, which typically don't go to trial and don't result in more than fines and simple probation.

Lindner agreed that animal cruelty cases should be charged at the highest level possible. That might land more people in jail or prison. Ideally, animal abuse therapy should become a mandatory part those sentences.

Given the lack of jail space, though, Lindner also suggested ways to focus on prevention.

"We need a lot more cross reporting," she said. "We know that if there's animal abuse in a family, very often chances are 80 percent or higher that you're going to find spousal and child abuse, or even elder abuse."

Sharing information between law enforcement, animal control officers, teachers and, particularly, health care workers is essential.

"We have to educate people, especially health care workers, that if they're seeing excessive dog bites in a family, that could indicate abuse, because the dog might be protecting weaker family members or itself," Lindner explained.

And neighbor reports of animal abuse and neglect should trigger greater concern, especially if there are children in the house.

"Neighbors will often report animal abuse long before any other kind of violence, because it's more out there and obvious."

Budgets may be tight, jail space overloaded and technical hurdles there to overcome.

But I think we can all agree that no one wants another Robert Gonzales skipping through the system.


Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com LOIS HENRY ONLINE

Read archived columns by Lois Henry at Bakersfield.com/henry. Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

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