Acton couple face trial for abusing dozens of dogs

Two-year-old pit bull Zeus, left, and one-year-old chihuahua mix play together during an evaluation session on the behavior of Zeus with other, smaller dogs at the County of Los Angeles, Castaic Animal Care Center on Saturday. 090216 Dan Watson

Two Acton dog trainers accused of abusing more than two dozen dogs in their care pleaded not guilty Wednesday to numerous charges filed against them.

Junior Barillas Morales, 27, and 24-year-old Natasha Elena Ahmad appeared Wednesday in Antelope Valley Superior Court where they were arraigned on 33 charges including 13 felony counts of cruelty to an animal and 13 misdemeanor counts of cruelty to an animal.

They were ordered to appear back in court Aug. 25 for a pretrial hearing.

The defendants also face three felony counts of child endangerment, two felony counts of grand theft and two misdemeanor counts of petty theft, Deputy District Attorney Amarilla Blondia said in a news release issued Wednesday.

On Feb. 7, three very thin dogs were discovered by neighbors, according to evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, she said.

A subsequent investigation uncovered two dead dogs and eight other dogs on the defendants’ property. One of the live dogs had a leg amputated because of an untreated infection, the prosecutor said.

According testimony presented at a preliminary hearing, the defendants operated a dog training business called Real Deal K-9’s.

Customers of the business allege they paid thousands of dollars and received very sick, thin dogs.

On May 2, investigators searching the defendants’ home allegedly found a loaded gun in a sofa where the couple’s three children, ages 1, 4 and 7, could find it, the prosecutor added.

The home was extremely dirty and a total of 24 dogs were seized during that search, according to court testimony.

If convicted as charged, Morales faces a possible maximum penalty of more than 34 years in state prison and Ahmad could faces a possible maximum sentence of more than 21 years in prison.

The case remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation and the County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control.

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