Animal Shelter Employee Is Accused of Stealing Dog

Times Staff Writer

An employee of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control has been accused of stealing a Rottweiler dog out of a county animal shelter.

In what prosecutors call the first case of its kind against a county animal care employee, the district attorney's office Tuesday filed felony charges of burglary and receiving stolen goods against animal control officer David Robert Gatica, 43.

Gatica allegedly took the dog from the county's Baldwin Park animal shelter in October and then sold it for $100, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Herb Lapin. Conviction could bring a maximum sentence of three years in prison, he said.

While theft charges against an animal care employee are unusual, Mary Ann Masey, a board member of Actors and Others for Animals, which helped rescue the dog, claimed the disappearance of animals from county shelters is not uncommon. Rottweilers are a German breed known for their aggressive temperament and are commonly used as guard dogs. There is an active underground market in stolen Rottweilers "among people using them for the wrong reasons, the same as they do for Dobermans and pit bulls," Masey said.

"We have felt for a long time this (thefts and resales) could have been going on in this county department and that it is organized," she said.

Poor Security Cited

In December, investigators from the Humane Society issued a report that cited instances of poor security in county shelters and suggested that animals were being stolen. As a result, county supervisors ordered the Sheriff's Department to investigate reports of thefts.

George Baca, chief deputy of the county Department of Animal Care and Control, confirmed that Gatica, who is a resident of San Bernardino County, has been an employee of the department "for the last two or three years," but is now on leave due to an "industrial disability."

"We did have two Rottweilers missing from the shelter where he was employed," Baca said. "We turned in a report to the Baldwin Park police to investigate."

Though he did not know how many animals in all have disappeared in the past from the six county animal shelters, or what happened to the other Rottweiler, Baca acknowledged, "We have animals that get unaccounted for."

According to Lapin, a sheriff's deputy found the Rottweiler as a stray in October and turned it in to the Baldwin Park shelter. A few days later, it disappeared, he said. But then Gatica contacted a member of a Rottweiler group and asked if they would interested in buying a Rottweiler, Lapin said.

"They said yes," the prosecutor said. "Unfortunately, the organization he contacted had seen the dog at the pound."

The rescuers gave Gatica a check for $100, Lapin said, which the suspect cashed. The sheriff's deputy identified the Rottweiler as the same dog he turned in to the shelter.

Since then, Actors and Others for Animals has spent about $1,000 in kennel fees for the full-grown dog while the investigation has proceeded, Masey said. Now that charges have been filed, the group will attempt to find it a home.

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