- PHOTO COURTESY OF ANIMAL PLACE SANCTUARY
When he first arrived, he was still covered in scars and had to have his burns treated daily with a variety of salves. Both his ears were burned at the top, and his left cornea is scarred.
“Those are still the scars from that horrendous burning,” said Kim Sturla, executive director and co-founder of Animal Place Sanctuary in Northern California, a rescue facility that took in Panda, a steer that was lit on fire when he was a few months old in Paso Robles.
The sanctuary, which as a matter of policy does not pay for animals it rescues, tried to take in Panda after Sturla read what was done to him. Panda’s teenage owner, Dylan Wilkinson, declined to move him to the sanctuary. An anonymous Southern California woman later bought Panda for $10,000 and sent him to the sanctuary to avoid auction and slaughter.
Wilkinson’s father declined a New Times request for comment.
With Panda now at the sanctuary, where he will ostensibly live out the rest of his natural life, local animal rights activists have turned their efforts toward the legal system. As of press time, 24-year-old Garrett Kaplan was scheduled for a pre-preliminary hearing in a felony animal cruelty case after he allegedly doused Panda with kerosene and lit him ablaze on Oct. 26, 2013.
Genete Bowen was one of several people to write letters on Sept. 1, encouraging San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy to deliver the maximum punishment, rather than what they believed would end up as a plea agreement to lesser charges.
The SLO County District Attorney filed one count of felony animal cruelty against Kaplan. If convicted, he could face a maximum punishment of prison and as much as a $20,000 fine, or a lesser punishment identified under the California Penal Code as a misdemeanor with the same fine but no more than a year in county jail.
“I have helped in the process of making sure that Panda was moved to an animal sanctuary in Northern California, as well as monitoring his progress there,” wrote Bowen, who said she is the founder of DogE911 All Pet Emergency Training and the Paws Division Director for International Firefighter Cancer Foundation. “He is doing quite well, but that shouldn’t mean that the crime against him should go unpunished!”
At least four other people delivered letters in response to the case, according to court records. Bowen additionally launched two online petitions on Change.org and Care2 Petitions, which as of this writing had received 403 and 1,932 signatures, respectively.
Panda supporters said they planned to show up to the Sept. 11 hearing wearing lime green to make themselves noticeable.
“We hope that you will notice we are present and paying very close attention to this case,” Diane Dieterich wrote to Duffy and Deputy District Attorney Jesse Marino.
Neither the District Attorney’s Office nor Kaplan’s attorney, Jay Allen Peterson, returned requests for comment.
As for Panda, Sturla said he was about ready to be released from quarantine and introduced with the sanctuary’s other cows. He already has a girlfriend named Jazzy, she added.
“We introduced her to Panda two weeks ago,” Sturla said. “They got along famously well.”