Hundreds gathered outside a Van Nuys courtroom Tuesday in support of Indy, a dog who suffered severe burns after a man allegedly strapped fireworks to the pup on the Fourth of July and then abandoned him in an alley in Winnetka.
Carlos Duarte, 41, was arrested in February on suspicion of animal cruelty, seven months after someone found the abandoned pup with third-degree burns over half his body. Doctors believe the dog was strapped with fireworks and lit ablaze.
Duarte appeared at the Van Nuys Courthouse Tuesday for a preliminary hearing. Outside, a large group gathered with signs and t-shirts in support of bringing "justice for Indy." Indy himself was also present.
"We’re hoping that (Duarte) does get prison time," Steve Spiro of the Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team (S.T.A.R.T.) said. "Often times there aren’t enough stricter laws for animals and we’re really hoping that the judge sees that this was an innocent victim and punishes him to the full extent of the law."
Supporters hope their presence will influence the judge to take the case seriously and not minimize it just because the crime involves a dog and not a person.
"The voiceless need to be heard and the only way for that to happen is by the community getting together, like a strong support today, to show the court system that, listen, we won’t stand for this, we want justice," Spiro said.
Nicknamed Indy because he was rescued during the Independence Day holiday, the 3-year-old pit bull captured the hearts of many across the Southland, with supporters donating to his lengthy recovery.
"This is one of the most severe cases of animal abuse I personally have ever been closely involved with and I, it just breaks my heart," Indy supporter Gloria Butler said.
The person who found Indy initially took him to S.T.A.R.T. Indy was then transferred to the WestlakeVillage Animal Hospital, where he underwent at least four surgeries and skin grafts, some performed by Dr. Richard Grossman, a well-known surgeon who typically operates on humans.
"He’s still got the scars to show from his trauma, he was in the hospital for almost half a year," Spiro said.
Indy's stay at Westlake Animal Hospital included a visit from comedian Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi.
After six months of recovery, Indy was adopted by Jenny Mandel, a veterinary technician at Westlake Village Animal Hospital who helped him make an "unbelievable" recovery.
"You know, the dog is doing much better, and this is also part of the recovery – seeing justice for Indy, seeing this man who did such a horrendous, horrendous act of animal abuse get punished," Butler said.
Police had been looking for the man who was seen on surveillance footage yanking Indy by his collar out of a truck bed on July 4, 2013. Officials said that the public helped lead police to the truck which led to the arrest of Duarte.
"I’m hoping (that) it shows other people that if you abuse an animal, you’re going to jail," Spiro said. "I really hope that (Duarte) is sorry for what he did and I really hope that he can learn a lesson from this."