Man faces three years in prison in Petaluma animal cruelty case

In a case that prompted outrage on social media, an East Bay handyman accused of abandoning a starving horse along Lakeville Highway pleaded not guilty to abuse charges Friday.|

Photos of a malnourished horse, ribs visible under a spotted, gray hide, show only part of the suffering in yet another equine abuse case in rural Sonoma County.

Jerome, the 25-year-old Appaloosa, had a roofing nail lodged in his hoof when he was abandoned last summer on a country road, not far from speeding traffic on Lakeville Highway near Petaluma.

A woman walking her dog saw the gelding male hobbling along after being let out of a livestock trailer and notified animal welfare officials. The horse was taken in by local animal advocates who nursed him back to health. Recently, he was adopted by a Bodega Bay woman.

Meanwhile, investigators acting on an anonymous tip found a Pinole handyman believed to be responsible.

Jonathan Garcia, 36, faces up to three years in prison if convicted of charges including felony animal cruelty. He pleaded not guilty Friday and set a preliminary hearing for April 20.

His lawyer, Joe Bisbiglia, said he was still reviewing the evidence and wouldn’t discuss the allegations.

“We’re preparing our case, and we intend to litigate,” he said Friday.

Prosecutors also declined to comment, citing the pending court hearing.

Garcia is free on bail.

Jerome was found July 22 on Old Lakeville Highway No. 3, not far from Lakeville Highway, said Katie Moore, executive director of the Sonoma County CHANGE program, or Coins to Help Abandoned and Neglected Equines, that rehabilitated him.

A red truck and trailer, believed to be Garcia’s, were seen leaving the area, she said.

The horse was about 80 percent of his normal weight with ribs showing on his abdomen. He had the nail deeply embedded into live tissue that had become infected, she said.

“The horse was suffering tremendously,” Moore said. “The nail was close to being in contact with the bone.”

Luckily, the passerby prevented the horse from walking into the highway, where it could have been hit and caused an accident, she said.

Moore said the fact that the horse was released on a public road was most troubling.

“You’d think, for God’s sake, at least tie it to a fence so it can’t wander out,” she said.

Moore said the nail was removed and the horse was treated over about a two-month period. It gained 150 to 200 pounds, getting back to its normal weight of about 1,000 pounds, she said.

Before and after pictures were posted to the group’s website and on social media.

Facebook commenters exploded with outrage, calling for swift punishment for Garcia.

Dorna Janoski said she was heartened by the horse’s recovery.

“I am glad this baby has been given the chance to have the good life he deserves,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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