The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office is considering whether Councilman Roberto Uranga and his wife, Tonia, should face criminal charges now that Long Beach animal control authorities have finished investigating accusations that the couple neglected their two German shepherd dogs last year, resulting in one dog’s death.
The District Attorney’s office on Friday confirmed that it has received and is reviewing the case, which animal control officials say they submitted Thursday. Prosecutors will determine whether there is enough evidence to file felony charges. If prosecutors decline, the case could be sent to the Long Beach City Prosecutor’s office to consider possible misdemeanor charges.
Roberto Uranga represents the city’s 7th District and serves on several regional and statewide commissions, including the California Coastal Commission. Tonia Uranga is a former two-term Long Beach councilwoman who lost a bid for a Long Beach Unified School Board seat in November.
The Long Beach Post first reported in October that the Urangas were under investigation for alleged animal abuse or neglect after bringing their two German shepherds, named Ghost and Chloe, to be boarded at Joyful Paws Pet Hotel in September.
Staff at the pet hotel were shocked at the dogs’ poor condition and reported the case to Long Beach Animal Care Services, according to multiple sources who asked not to be named because the investigation was ongoing. Ghost died within hours after he was picked up by a nonprofit rescue group called Fix Long Beach, while Chloe was adopted by a new family, according to the rescue group.
The Urangas have said the dogs were beloved and well cared for.
In a letter to Animal Care Services, the Urangas’ lawyer, who provided the letter to the Post, said the couple made the tough decision to relinquish Ghost and Chloe to Fix Long Beach for adoption after boarding them at the pet hotel for a weekend in September.
The dogs were both elderly and the Urangas have said they struggled to care for them in the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview Friday, the lawyer, Michael Kraut, said the couple has never mistreated their dogs and that Ghost died from a sudden stomach condition while he was in the care of Fix Long Beach, which should have recognized the symptoms.
“The Urangas were devastated by the death of Ghost as they have cared for and loved this dog for all of his life and they are outraged that an organization that they turned this dog over to and claims to be professional in how they care for animals missed the obvious signs that the animal was in distress,” he said.
Kraut, in the letter, said the Urangas learned only through an “anonymous tip” that Ghost was dead. He said further investigation showed that Ghost died from gastric torsion, a condition in dogs in which the stomach becomes stretched and rotated. The condition, which is more common in German shepherds and other large dogs, can worsen quickly and be fatal within hours, Kraut said, noting that dog caretakers must know the signs.
“The evidence points to the fact that Fix Long Beach was negligent in recognizing the signs of gastric distress and seeking care for Ghost,” he wrote.
Diana Kliche, executive director of Fix Long Beach, said she’s outraged over the Urangas’ accusations that the organization was negligent.
“If the Urangas are saying I should have X-ray vision and see inside of an animal on a 24-hour, minute-by-minute, ongoing basis, I think we can all agree to the ridiculousness of that statement,” she said. “We are an outstanding rescue and we do everything in our power to give the best care to our animals.”
Kliche said she was the one who picked up Ghost and Chloe from the pet hotel after the Urangas relinquished custody. She said both dogs were in “horrific shape,” with severe fly bites on their ears and what looked like “melon ball-sized” 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 said. “The tips of Chloe’s ears were like hamburger meat and they were missing parts that will never grow back.”
Kliche said Ghost died in less than 24 hours after she picked him up. Chloe was adopted by a family and some of the fur on the tips of her ears has grown back, she said.
“She’s thriving in a loving home,” Kliche said.
Kraut, in his letter, said Tonia Uranga had discussed the sores on the dogs’ paws with an employee at Joyful Paws and said they were likely caused by yard fertilizer.
“The initial plan was to deal with the dogs’ issues with a thorough bathing and medication that Ms. Uranga’s daughter would drop off at Joyful Paws,” the letter stated. “However, by the next day the Joyful Paws employee thought that a trip to the veterinarian would be the best option, and Ms. Uranga immediately agreed, approving payment of all expenses.”
Joyful Paws owner, Shawnte Marquez, declined to comment on the Urangas’ case but said she has worked with Fix Long Beach for several years with no incidents.
“They run a top-notch facility and all I’ve seen are success stories,” she said. “I just can’t see how they’re to blame.”
The Long Beach Post has filed a public records request for a copy of Animal Care Services’ investigation into the dogs’ condition, but city officials said it remains confidential while under review by the District Attorney’s office.
Kraut said there have been no prior reports of abuse or neglect against the Urangas and that the investigation is possible retaliation for Roberto Uranga’s vote on the city budget as a council member.
“It’s a vendetta against him for not expanding the budget for Animal Care Services,” he said.
Staycee Dains, director of Long Beach Animal Care Services, declined to comment on the allegations but said the Long Beach City Council has been supportive of Animal Care Services and has voted to increase its budget in recent years.
Dains declined to comment specifically on the case due to the ongoing investigation.
“Any time we receive a complaint about animal cruelty or neglect we have an obligation to follow up, and we do,” she said.