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Puppy dies, owner pleads not guilty to animal cruelty charge

By KELLY WHEELER

City News Service

A La Jolla man accused of choking his 10-week-old puppy — which later died — as punishment for barking and nipping his girlfriend on the nose pleaded not guilty Friday to felony animal cruelty.

David Hale Warner, 50, was ordered held in lieu of $35,000 bail. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Garrett Randall said Warner was on probation for domestic violence at the time of his arrest and had failed to appear in court on a number of occasions.

The prosecutor told Judge David Szumowski that Warner and his girlfriend brought the chocolate Labrador retriever named Coco to an emergency veterinary hospital early Wednesday morning.

The male puppy was in obvious distress, couldn’t walk, had very labored breathing and had blood in its saliva, the prosecutor said.

The animal was placed in an oxygen tent and intensive care, but Friday morning went into cardiac arrest and died, Randall said.

The prosecutor said the defendant made a number of statements to authorities, first saying the puppy had accidentally hung itself, then saying he held the animal down by its mouth, possibly cutting off its air supply.

The defendant then allegedly told authorities that he held the puppy down by its neck for 20 seconds, and the dog was not moving and became unconscious once he stopped.

Randall was asked why Warner was being prosecuted for animal cruelty.

“I think that’s obvious,” the prosecutor said outside court. “The most helpless — a 10-week-old puppy — it’s just pure cruelty.”

Dan DeSousa, a lieutenant with the county Department of Animal Services, reiterated the prosecutor’s remarks.

“This gentlemen ... I can’t even call him a gentlemen ... this person killed a 10-week-old defenseless puppy,” DeSousa said.

He said animal control officials don’t normally see alleged abuse of this magnitude. Animal control officials recommend positive reinforcement when disciplining animals, DeSousa said.

“We do not suggest pinning a puppy down by its neck for 20 seconds until it dies,” DeSousa told reporters.

Szumowski set a readiness conference for March 9 and a preliminary hearing for March 11.