Sylmar resident Lily Wissell and her husband are the proud “parents” of three pit bulls and consider themselves unapologetic animal lovers.
So when Lily learned about the cruelty afflicted upon “Indy,” a young pit bull who was severely burned and left to die in an alley in Van Nuys last year, her blood ran cold.
“I first saw [the case] on Facebook, saw the pictures of him with the bandages in recovery,” Wissell said. “My first reaction was you are appalled that people do these crimes. And there’s got to be a way to toughen the laws and have harsher penalties.
“Fines and jail time would be nice in all these cases.”
Wissell and other advocates against animal abuse plan to rally at the Van Nuys Courthouse on Sept. 24, beginning at 8 a.m. On that day suspect Carlos Duarte, suspected of abusing Indy, is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing.
Duarte is charged with felony intentional animal cruelty, and failure to provide veterinary care. He is accused of driving into a Van Nuys alley, taking the dog out of his van and leaving him there to die on July 5, 2013. The animal was severely burned. Earlier reports said Duarte allegedly wrapped fireworks onto the dog and ignited them, but District Attorney spokesman Ricardo Santiago said there is evidence is “inconclusive” as to who had caused the burns on the animal, and when it was done.
Indy was brought to the Shelter Transport Animal Rescue Team (S.T.A.R.T.), and then transferred to Westlake Village Animal Hospital. The dog was in dire condition with life-threatening burns over the majority of his body. But following numerous surgeries, months of painful recovery and therapy, Indy continues to recover in the home his new owner, Jenny Mandel, a vet tech from the clinic where he was treated.
Mandel, who lives in Santa Monica, said Indy — short for “Independence” — has made tremendous progress, both physically and psychologically.
“He still gets burn cream three times a week, which keeps those wounds from cracking and bleeding,” Mandel said. “If we keep the areas moisturized, there are no problems.
“The incredible part: he is extremely people friendly. That has been part of big deal, how incredibly forgiving he is. You would think after something like this there would be tremendous apprehension to socialize with humans. It’s amazing. I wish humans were as forgiving.”
Mandel said there were many requests to adopt the dog, but she got custody in December, in part “to keep him within the Westlake Village hospital family.” She takes him for short daily walks for exercise and maintains the “touching and soothing voice” therapy that has helped the animal get past a fear of loud noises.
“We started bonding in the hospital. The trust is there,” said Mandel, who puts Indy’s age at 3.
Wissell, who said she was fortunate to spend a day with Mandel and Indy in Santa Monica, heartily corroborates the assessment.
“Loud noises will bother him. But he is so loving, so friendly and so forgiving,” Wissell said. “You’d think he would hate people. But he let me nuzzle him, and then Indy was on his back for belly rubs.”
The outrage to the abuse went beyond California.
“Indy’s story has touched the hearts of many, even overseas,” said Laura Jones, an animal advocate based in London, UK, who is heavily involved in the Justice For Indy campaign. “I wish I could have shown support for Indy by being at his hearings in person, however, I was able to send letters to the DA and Judge for Indy’s case and I would encourage others to so the same and be the voice of animals like Indy who have suffered senseless abuse.”
Wissell hopes there is a large turnout at the courthouse on Sept. 24.
“I want to see more support. More people means more awareness,” she said.”
“The ‘Patrick the Pitbull’ case in New Jersey [where a woman received 18 months probation and was fined $2,000 in 2013 for abandoning her pit bull pet, which was later found in the bottom of an apartment trash chute in a plastic bag] took three years. That case started many of us in the advocacy world. I will see Indy’s case through all the way to the end.”