Accused dog strangler pleads not guilty

A pet store employee pleaded not guilty Thursday to animal abuse and animal cruelty in the alleged strangulation of a 1-year-old dachshund last month in a San Mateo pet store, San Mateo County prosecutors said today.

On May 15, Juan Zarate, 38, of Hayward, took the dog Henry to a back room to trim its nails but got angry when the dog was not cooperative, San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Zarate rushed to the front of the store three minutes later with the dog, which was unresponsive and had blood foaming from its mouth.

A veterinarian at the store was unable to revive the dog, prosecutors said.

Police responded at 5:15 p.m. to the PetSmart at 3520 S. El Camino Real on a report that a dog had died. Police arrested Zarate at the store the same day.

Henry came to the store with his owner, a 47-year-old San Mateo man, who brought two other dogs with him to have the dogs’ nails trimmed, according to prosecutors.

Wagstaffe said Henry’s owner was in court Thursday and indicated Henry was a beloved member of the family.

“It was such an impactful thing for them,” Wagstaffe said of Henry’s death.

A necropsy determined that the dog was strangled. A post-mortem X-ray showed the dog also suffered two broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Zarate has no other history of animal abuse, according to Wagstaffe. He is out of jail on a $50,000 bond.

A superior court review conference is set for 1 p.m. July 21 and a preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. July 29 in the county courthouse in South San Francisco.

An attorney with the San Mateo County Private Defender Program will represent Zarate. An attorney has not been assigned.