BY COURTENAY EDELHART, Californian staff writer email@example.com
With animal rights activists protesting outside the courthouse, animal abuser Robert Gonzales was sentenced to three years probation Wednesday, the first year of it to be served in Kern County Jail.
Gonzales, 43, took a deal last month, pleading no contest to felony animal cruelty and possession of a controlled substance.
Prosecutor Felicia Nagle had asked for 16 months in prison, noting that Gonzales tied a dog to a tree, duct taped her mouth shut, sprayed bleach in her eyes and hit her in the mouth with a golf club.
"He tortured an animal weighing between six and seven pounds," Nagle said.
In light of Gonzales' previous criminal history and the fact that he had already violated the terms of his probation in an unrelated misdemeanor case, "Probation is not appropriate in this particular case," she said.
At the time of his arrest in December of last year, Gonzales had been charged with misdemeanor vandalism stemming from allegedly flattening the tire of a vehicle parked in front of a neighbor's home.
Superior Court Judge Michael Bush said he worried that Gonzales would not be adequately supervised upon release if he served only jail time, and that what was "best for society" was for Gonzales to undergo counseling.
Gonzales can't own or possess any animals during his three years of probation. He was also ordered to undergo substance abuse treatment and to obtain counseling from Lorin Lindner, a clinical psychologist with offices in Frazier Park who is certified to work with animal abusers through a program called AniCare. That treatment program would last a minimum of 12 weeks.
Gonzales officially relinquished legal ownership of the dog, whose name is Lacey, at Wednesday's hearing.
After Gonzales' arrest, Bakersfield City Animal Control seized the small blond-colored terrier, who survived the abuse and has been staying in a foster home while receiving medical attention. The Friends of the Kern County Animal Shelters Foundation has raised more than $13,000 for Lacey's veterinary bills, far more than the roughly $3,400 that was needed after some services were donated. The extra money is being used to treat two other abused dogs and whatever's left over after that will be set aside for future abuse cases, said foundation president Judi Daunell.
The city has been flooded with requests from families anxious to adopt Lacey, but at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Kern County Public Health Services Department Director Matthew Constantine said Lacey has become very attached to the foster family that is caring for her, and officials hope that family will adopt her.
Lacey was placed in a foster home in which there was medical expertise because she requires around-the-clock care and at one point was taking about 10 medications a day, Constantine said. She has undergone surgery twice to save her eyesight, at Coffee Road Animal Hospital in Bakersfield and at specialist Eye Care for Animals in Pasadena. There is some permanent damage, but a degree of sight has been restored and she is "happy and healthy" now despite chemical burns to her eyes, face and ears, Constantine said.
"It's a wonderful end to a horriffic story," he said.
Officials had hoped to bring Lacey to the press conference, but she's still extremely skittish around people she doesn't know, Constantine said.
About a half dozen animal rights activists picketed outside the courthouse during Gonzales' sentencing Wednesday morning, carrying signs that read "Justice 4 for Lacey" and "Honk 4 Lacey." The same protesters were there during a previous hearing in which sentencing was delayed to explore counseling options.
Demonstrator Karen Marousek of Bakersfield was there both days, representing a group called Justice for Paws.
After the sentencing, Marousek said while she would have preferred the maximum sentence, she agreed with the judge that "counseling is appropriate" and would likely make a difference in deterring future attacks against animals.
Nagle, who outside the courtroom described herself as a dog lover, also said she would have preferred more jail time.
"I'm a little disappointed," she said.
Asked if Gonzales had expressed remorse at any point in the plea deal negotiations, Nagle said simply, "No."