Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Irony Alert: Braveheart's Abuser Goes to Court on National Dog Day

Today was National Dog Day.

National Dog Day was founded in 2004...
...to show our deep appreciation for the historical connection of companionship with one another - for their endearing patience, unquestioning loyalty, for their work protecting our streets, homes and families as Police K-9’s, Military Working Dogs, Guide Dogs and Therapy Dogs. 
In addition, the day is meant to call attention to ...
...the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year, and acknowledges family dogs and dogs that work selflessly each day to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort. Dogs put their lives on the line every day - for their law enforcement partner, for their blind companion, for a child who is disabled, for our freedom and safety by detecting bombs and drugs and pulling victims of tragedy from wreckage.
And ironically, today was an important court date for Braveheart, our local now-ambassador dog who was found almost one year ago chained to a Cadillac Escalade in a storage building in over 100-degree heat.

Today, Braveheart's supporters were praying for justice as yet another court date rolled around.
Team Braveheart at the Caddo Courthouse today.

Over 20,000 people have signed the online petition so far demanding the maximum penalty for Braveheart's abuser; every state in the country is represented in that petition as well as 76 countries worldwide.  There is little doubt that this petition will carry some influence with the judge when sentencing finally comes around. Please sign it if you feel so inclined.

You can go here and here to read the backstory on Braveheart.  The short version is that he was found on September 11 last year, in a storage locker, in Louisiana where the heat was over 100-degrees for several days, chained to a car with no food and water, left to die.  He was found literally hours away from death, completely unable to even lift his head, and was taken to the 24-hour emergency vet clinic.

At that point, euthanasia would have been an option totally on the table.  He was that close to death.

But, the veterinarian who first saw him said "human hands caused this and human hands will fix it."

Today Braveheart is an ambassador for animal rights, animal rescue, and will be the Grand Marshall in the 2015 Barkus and Meoux parade!

Regardless of how the justice system ultimately deals with Brave's abuser, it's a happy ending for him.  He's healthy, happy, and in a loving home.

Just look at him then and now!

Braveheart when he was found 9/11/13 and now.
I know it's hard to believe, but it really is the same dog.

Today Bo and Ronda Spataro, along with a legion of friends and supporters, attended yet another court proceeding in the search for justice against the man who chained Brave to that car, closed the door and walked away, leaving the animal without food or water in that storage locker.  There was no bedding, no padding, no bowls, no nothing in that locker.  Just an empty building and an oily floor, heat, and silence.  All he could do was wait to starve to death or die of dehydration.

The court proceedings so far have consisted of the arraignment, various delays and proceedings, motions, and finally today a court date was set.  In November there will be a proceeding for more discovery and finally a trial by jury in January 2015.  A jury trial!

I talked to Bo Spataro today, who with his wife Ronda now own Braveheart;  he told me they are pleased and encouraged by the idea of a jury trial.  He has confidence that the evidence they have, and the horrible, horrible pictures, will convince any jury that Mr. Lee left Brave to die.  He has confidence that the community won't accept this kind of abuse.

It's hard to fathom what the defense will have to offer; the man who owned Braveheart (Bo and Ronda named him Braveheart) admitted the dog was his when he signed papers relinquishing his ownership so Bo and Ronda could legally adopt him.  So, "the dog wasn't mine" isn't an option.

He can't say he didn't know the dog was in the locker he rented because he's already admitted he knew.  In the police report he said he'd left the dog there for two days -- (it was obviously much longer than that).

His only defense might be that he was trying to find a home for the dog, but if that's the case, you've got to wonder why he chained the dog to a car with a very heavy chain, closed him up in a locker with no food or water, and went away; why the heavy chain?  Where was he going to go?

That man went to sleep in his bed every night knowing that dog was in that locker dying.  Godless.

By the time Brave was found, as I said, he could not lift his head off the oily concrete to drink water, much less eat; he was literally hours away from death.  His organs were shutting down.  He looked like a carcass. He was taken to the 24-hour emergency vet clinic where he was given 2 or 3 transfusions, IV fluids, and had his blood work checked every eight hours for the first few days and then every single day for a month after that.  The effort to stabilize and save him was heroic.

Then, of course, there was the awful battle with Caddo Animal Control who seized Braveheart from the Spataros who were fostering him; they said they had to keep Brave as "evidence" until the proceedings were over.  Seriously?  By the time this finally reaches the jury it will be one year and four months; there's no way that dog, as sick and unvaccinated as he was, would have survived that.  Naturally there was a great deal of protest and outrage and in the face of a protest outside the gates of the facility, Animal Control finally released Brave back to Bo and Ronda.  It was about that time that Gabriel Lee signed papers relinquishing his ownership of the dog.

Brave was adopted by Bo and Ronda: Ronda made a promise to Braveheart the day he was seized that she would get him back -- and she did.  Promise kept.

And now we still wait for justice.

If you ask Bo what would be a fitting punishment for Gabriel Lee, he has been a bit reticent to pass judgment.  Bo is a kind, forgiving soul and had Mr. Lee ever once admitted responsibility or apologized for what he did, Bo would have accepted that; instead, Mr. Lee has said Brave is "just a dog" and has denied responsibility.  He's plead "not guilty" in court, been late for appearances, pushed reporters, and shown no remorse.  At this point, the entire animal rescue community wants the maximum penalty for Mr. Lee who is now charged with felony cruelty to animals ...
In addition to any other penalty imposed for a violation of this Subsection, the offender shall
be ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation and subsequently recommended psychological treatment and shall be banned by court order from owning or keeping animals for a period of time deemed appropriate by the court. Any costs associated with any evaluation or treatment ordered by the court shall be borne by the defendant. 
Whoever commits the crime of aggravated cruelty to animals shall be fined not less than five
thousand dollars nor more than twenty-five thousand dollars or imprisoned, with or without hard labor, for not less than one year nor more than ten years, or both.
And that's not really enough for leaving a helpless creature to die.  The laws need to be tougher.

What else can be done to prevent this from happening again?  Bo Spataro thinks an Animal Abuse Registry might be an option, which would work sort of like a sex-offender registry.  Gabriel Lee should never be allowed to own another animal.  A registry would just add some fines, revocation of probation, or even jail time to anyone who was in violation.  It might make it just a little more difficult for an abuser to slip through the system.

I would suggest also that Mr. Lee should have to pay restitution for the veterinarian care Braveheart has had to receive.  The community has donated tenfold to Brave's care, but Mr. Lee should still be held financially accountable.

In the end, as I said, it's a happy ending for Braveheart; it's by the grace of God that the owners of that storage building found him before he died.  And it seems providential that he ended up with the Spataros:  Bo and Brave visit schools and teach children about animal welfare; Ronda is a vet tech who has been able to help care for Brave's medical needs.  Being in the spotlight makes them both somewhat uncomfortable but if, in the end, just one more dog is saved or if ultimately laws are strengthened against animal abusers, then it's worth it.

When you have the attention of over 20,000 people around the world, you're doing something right.  There is some good that will come out of this.

And just look at that happy family!

Keep up with Braveheart's journey here.

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