Updated at 9:30 p.m.The arraignment of Kimberly Nizato has been moved to May 12th at Bellflower Superior Court. In the words of Officer Reyes of Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, “All dates are subject to change due to the unpredictable nature of the work.”
The shift in dates reflected uncertainty regarding which courtroom the arraignment would be held in: Norwalk Superior on the 10th versus Bellflower Superior on the 12th. As it stands, the date is now tentatively set for May 12th, 2010 at Bellflower Superior Court.
When the animal control agency SEAACA made the arrest of Kimberly Nizato on Friday for the suspected abuse and neglect of the dog known as Courage, they sought a $50,000 bail enhancement from the District Attorney’s office on the grounds she was a flight risk and posed an additional threat by working as a veterinary attendant at Southern California Veterinary Specialty Hospital in the city of Irvine. Unfortunately, the DA’s office only consented to a bail of $20,000 which was posted the following day, allowing Nizato to walk free until her arraignment on May 10th 8:30 a.m. at Bellflower Superior Court.
According to a relative of the Nizato family, Courage was kept “confined” in the backyard presumably on a leash or chain, because Nizato’s parents did not want him knocking things over. On April 6th he was then placed into a metal airplane carrier in the garage without sufficient room to stand or move about. Supporting this chronology, Maria Dales, founder of German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County, points out, “He was eating dirt, so he had to have been out of the cage [prior to being placed in it].” The transfer precipitated Ms. Nizato handing him over to an anonymous rescuer who was disturbed by Courage’s condition and is believed to reside in the same neighborhood. This person gave him to a second rescuer who then delivered him to GSROC.
However, Captain Aaron Reyes of Southeast Area Animal Control Authority is doubtful Nizato’s parents are responsible for the dog being constrained without access to sufficient food or water. He says investigations have yielded the parents to be quite “Hands off. [They had] little to no knowledge of the dog’s condition. They looked to [Kimberly] as the medical expert [on animals] in the family. They believed her on whatever she said was best for the dog.” He puts responsibility for the dog’s abhorrent state squarely on Kimberly Nizato’s shoulders.
Courage, as picked up from the Nizato garage (Photo courtesy GSROC)
What is certain is that Courage was starved for an extended period of time stretching into weeks and he maniacally scavenged on rocks and dirt to survive. This is well documented by his veterinary records. And Dr. Grant of Community Veterinary Hospital in Garden Grove estimates he may have gone up to a week without water. His skeletal frame is not attributable to a degenerative disease like cancer. Reportedly Nizato initially claimed the dog was suffering from such an illness, but Officer Reyes says she was not able to produce any medical records substantiating that claim. Consistently the evidence suggests Courage’s condition is the result of something done to him by one or more persons; possibly a woman whose very work in the veterinary field should have afforded her knowledge of the crippling effect of her actions. Once Courage was brought to Dr. Grant, the earthy debris found in his gastrointestinal tract was clogging it to the extent that he could not relieve himself. The matter was flushed out by means of rectal tube. Having no remaining muscle or fat whatsoever, he had cachexia and was in a state of hypoglycemic shock – a lower than normal blood glucose level. Additionally, with a body temperature of 97 degrees when it should have been 101.5, he was hypothermic. In the words of the original informant, he was, “lateral, emaciated…and dehydrated” when he came into her care.
Nevertheless, aside from the devastating effects that starvation has had on his body, no other maladies can be detected. This has been confirmed by both Officer Reyes and Dr. Grant.
Courage on the mend (Photo courtesy of CSROC)
Presently, Courage is continuing to do well with his foster family. Maria Dales says he is very anxious to walk and run, often attempting to chase after a ball his new foster brother (another German Shepherd) likes playing with. But his leg muscles are still atrophied and he tires quickly. While he has been regaining some muscle mass and overall body weight, he could still hurt himself were he to fall, so his doting foster mom has him under constant surveillance. For his part, he is proving himself to be a classic “Velcro dog” by preferring to be in her company most of the time.
In terms of organ function, Dr. Grant reports that, “His kidney levels have improved and we are still following his anemia and liver enzymes. We are hoping for a complete recovery, but time will tell.”
Of course the famished dog still wants to eat everything he can sink his teeth into, including weeds and inedible objects, but he is at least able to ingest hard kibble now, an additional sign of good convalescence. To date, he has gained 10 pounds. Courage has even been offered swim therapy which would allow him to move and exercise his joints and muscles with little risk of injury.
However, the fate of Kimberly Nizato remains much less certain. While animal control and animal rights activists would like to see Nizato receive the maximum sentence available under California law, which is five years in state prison, a $20,000 fine and a three to five year ban from owning of any kind of animal, it is quite possible she could get away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Officer Reyes bitterly recalls a similar case of animal cruelty that SEAACA battled recently. While the department pushed for the harshest sentence possible, the man only received 2 months jail time and court mandated counseling. A petition has been started on behalf of Courage to show public support for Nizato receiving the maximum sentence.
Another worrisome example can be found in the case of Angel: On August 31st of 2009, a white pit bull mix named “Angel” was also starved to the brink of death, but rescued from the Carson Shelter by Take Me Home dog rescue of Los Angeles. Take Me Home sought the help of Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control to prosecute Angel’s suspected abuser. Tragically, in the end the case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. On April 15th, 2010, Take Me Home posted the following statement on their Facebook page: “We feel the Los Angeles County Animal Control Officer assigned to the case did a less than adequate job and did not properly document Angel’s case; beginning with his first visit to the defendant’s home on July 3, 2009, and ending with the shelter who did not properly document her intake on August 20, 2009.”
Officer Reyes says he is glad Nizato’s arraignment has been postponed until May10th, for it will allow his department to finish collecting as much evidence as possible against her. On May 10th a judge will determine whether SEAACA has enough of a case to present it to the D.A. At that time she will enter a plea of either “guilty” or “not guilty.” Reyes remains confident, despite the earlier SEAACA case he cited, pointing out that overall SEAACA has had a lot of success in prosecuting animal cruelty crimes.
In the meantime, Courage supporters, and there are a lot of them, spanning as far as Brazil, Spain and beyond, have been rallying on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, as well as in person. A peaceful march is scheduled on Saturday, April 24th at 1:00 p.m. on the corner of Lakewood and Artesia Boulevards in the city of Bellflower, CA. It is being held near the Nizato residence in protest against the severe neglect Courage suffered. Maria Dales made it clear the march is not officially sponsored or initiated by GSROC. However, some GSROC volunteers may attend. The protesters are working in cooperation with the city of Bellflower and are expressly seeking to focus the event on raising awareness about animal cruelty and not revenge against the Nizatos. The protest flier explicitly states: “We must conduct ourselves in a calm and professional manner.” The Courage Lives fan page also echoes this aim of the rally, “PEACEFUL is the name of the game. Courage is a peaceful, loving dog and we want to be the same while raising awareness of animal cruelty.”
On a final triumphant note, the GSROC website announced yesterday that “Courage asked us to thank everyone for their generous gifts for his care. He has met his fund raising goal.” And of him finding a Furever Home? Volunteer Althea Smith says, “He and his foster mom have developed a very strong bond. She has applied to adopt him and most likely that is where he will end up.”
You can help increase the chances of people signing Courage’s petition and attending his rally by posting this article to your Twitter, Facebook or MySpace page.
To learn more about him, call this number: (714) 974.7762 at German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County, a registered non-profit 501c(3) organization serving Orange County, Greater Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and more. Also keep updated on his progress on his web-page.
Please remember to spay/neuter, tag and microchip your companion animals.
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