NORWALK – Kimberly Nizato, the woman who surrendered her severely emaciated dog to an acquaintance in spring 2010, pleaded no contest Monday to a single charge of felony animal cruelty.
The Bellflower resident was working as a kennel assistant at an Irvine veterinary hospital when she relinquished the ailing 3-year-old German shepherd. She was arrested April 16, 2010.
The dog weighed 37 pounds at the time and was named Courage by German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County, which claimed responsibility for his care.
Veterinarians testified last year at a preliminary hearing that the dog ate dirt and rocks to survive.
The story of Courage’s survival and return to health captivated readers in Orange County and around the world. Many animal lovers have waited anxiously for a conclusion to the court case.
The courts view a no contest plea the same as a guilty plea; the maximum sentence for felony animal cruelty is 3 years in prison. Nizato also will be expected to pay restitution for the subsequent medical bills and care of Courage.
Nizato will be sentenced July 28 by Judge Robert J. Higa in Dept. K at Norwalk Superior Court.
Her attorney, Andrew Stein, indicated he would petition the court to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor. Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Bainbridge said she would fight to keep the felony charge in place.
As for the no contest plea, Bainbridge was pleased with the outcome.
“It’s always good when someone takes responsibility for their actions,” she said.
Maria Dales, the founder and president of GSROC, said she looked forward to sentencing and restitution for the nonprofit.
“In addition to making restitution to our organization for the costs associated with saving Courage’s life, Nizato should be required to reimburse the tax payers for the incredible amount of time and money that she wasted by not owning up to her crimes right at the start,” Dales said.
“While we’re glad to see that progress is finally being made, we won’t be satisfied until we know that she is receiving the maximum sentence allowed for committing felony animal abuse.”
Courage was adopted by Lisa Whiseant of Huntington Beach who also is a volunteer with GSROC. Whiseant helped to foster the dog during his recovery. The dog now weighs 90 pounds and lives with another German shepherd named Isis.