Councilman and wife accused of animal abuse take animal cruelty prevention classes in lieu of criminal charges

Long Beach Councilman Roberto Uranga and his wife, Tonia, will not face criminal charges in an alleged animal abuse case after completing an online course of animal cruelty prevention classes through a program with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, an office spokesman said Wednesday.

The couple was accused of severely neglecting their two German shepherd dogs last year, resulting in one dog’s death. Long Beach Animal Care Services investigated the case and presented it to the district attorney’s office in March for possible felony changes.

DA spokesman Ricardo Santiago on Wednesday said the case was handled through a pre-filing diversion program, which allows individuals to avoid charges if they complete certain requirements. He said the Urangas on Aug. 27 both agreed to complete an online animal cruelty course known as B.A.R.C. (Benchmark Animal Rehabilitative Curriculum) within 60 days.

He said they have since provided proof of completion and that the case was not filed, “in lieu of the pre-filing diversion.”

The Urangas have been in local politics for nearly two decades. Roberto Uranga represents the city’s 7th District and serves on the California Coastal Commission, while Tonia Uranga is a former two-term Long Beach councilwoman.

The Post first reported in October last year that the Urangas were under investigation for alleged animal abuse or neglect after bringing their dogs, Ghost and Chloe, to be boarded at Joyful Paws Pet Hotel. Staff said they were shocked at the dogs’ poor condition and reported the case to Long Beach Animal Care.

Ghost died hours after he was picked up by a nonprofit rescue group called Fix Long Beach, while Chloe was adopted by a new family.

The Urangas have maintained that Ghost and Chloe were never mistreated and were beloved members of the family. The couple said the dogs were elderly that they struggled to care for them in the COVID-19 pandemic and ultimately made the tough decision to relinquish custody to Fix Long Beach.

Roberto Uranga’s council office referred questions to the couple’s lawyer, Michael Kraut, who said in an interview Wednesday that he believes the DA lacked sufficient evidence to file charges, but the Urangas were glad to participate in the online course to show they were taking the situation seriously.

“They feel vindicated of the rejection of all charges and now they wish to move forward to represent the citizens of Long Beach and continuing their work,” he said.

The pre-filing diversion program “diverts low-level non-violent offenders away from the criminal court process and into a voluntary supervision program,” according to the DA’s description of the program.

“If the offender successfully completes the terms of the program, the case shall not be filed. If the offender fails to abide by the terms of the PDP, the case shall be filed, and the offender shall be prosecuted for the crimes committed.”

The B.A.R.C program is described on its website as a “powerful and comprehensive online course designed to inspire change in attitudes and actions toward animals in individuals who have mistreated them.”

“B.A.R.C.’s educational and informative curriculum is intended to create a positive change in behavior by increasing students’ awareness of the value and needs of all sentient beings.”

Kraut has said that Ghost died from a sudden stomach condition common in German shepherds while he was in the care of Fix Long Beach, and that the organization should have recognized the symptoms.

Diana Kliche, executive director of Fix Long Beach, told the Post in March that she was the one who picked up Ghost and Chloe from the pet hotel after the Urangas relinquished custody. She said the dogs were both in “horrific shape” from neglect, with severe fly bites on their ears and what looked like chemical burns on their paws.

“We do a lot of work with rescue animals in all situations and the fly bites on their ears were some of the worst I’ve ever seen,” she told the Post. “The tips of Chloe’s ears were like hamburger meat and they were missing parts that will never grow back.”

She said Chloe was later adopted by a family and was thriving in her new home.

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Kelly Puente is an award-winning general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. She has worked as a journalist in Long Beach since 2006, covering everything from education and crime to courts and breaking news. Kelly previously worked at the Long Beach Press-Telegram and the Orange County Register before joining the Post in 2018. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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