Man Arrested for Allegedly Stealing Family's Van, Leaving Dog to Die

He was taken into custody near the same place where the van was found, and where local media and police were gathered Friday night.

By Samantha Tata and Kim Baldonado
|  Saturday, Aug 24, 2013  |  Updated 8:28 AM EDT
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A transient was taken into custody near near the same place where a family's stolen minivan was found abandoned, with their 10-year-old yellow Lab dead of heat exhaustion inside. Kim Baldonado reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2013.

A transient was taken into custody near near the same place where a family's stolen minivan was found abandoned, with their 10-year-old yellow Lab dead of heat exhaustion inside. Kim Baldonado reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2013.

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The owner of a dog who was left to die inside a family's stolen minivan helped arrest the man who allegedly stole his 10-year-old yellow Lab, hours after police released surveillance images of the thief.

"It makes me feel better," owner Nayo Mateo said of the arrest. "Now, I can sleep better that someone like him is not on the street anymore."

"I just told him, he's going to pay for what he did," Mateo added.

NBC4's cameras were there shortly before 8 p.m. Friday when police took Danny Fis, a transient, into custody near the same place where Mateo's van was found abandoned earlier this week.

Fis, 29, was booked on felony animal cruelty charges and is being held in lieu of $45,000 bail, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

When asked if he knew there was a dog in the backseat of the stolen van, Fis -- in handcuffs -- nodded yes.

Mateo said he left the car running with the air conditioner on so his 10-year-old yellow Lab could stay cool while he went inside to get his wife and 2-year-old daughter, who were shopping at a children’s clothing store.

When he returned to the parking lot Aug. 17 to find his minivan was gone, Mateo’s heart sank -- not for the car, but for Maru, who was sleeping in the backseat.

Mateo said the dog -- who he’s had since she was a puppy -- was more like a child to him than a pet. The night of the theft, Mateo’s wife said their 2-year-old daughter (pictured below) repeatedly asked, "Where is Maru?"

The family’s minivan and their beloved pet were stolen from a parking lot at 12507 Ventura Boulevard, at Whitsett Avenue (map), in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Studio City.

Two days later, the Mateos’ van was found abandoned in the 4100 block of Whitsett Avenue, about a quarter mile north of where it was stolen.

The windows were rolled up. Maru was inside, dead of heat exhaustion.

The thief was spotted in surveillance footage (pictured below) wearing a brownish-colored plaid hoodie, a dirty white t-shirt and tan shorts at the time of the heist, Los Angeles police said. He is Hispanic with brown hair, brown eyes, 5 feet 8 inches tall and 240 pounds.

He was taken into custody near the Weddington Golf and Tennis in Studio City -- the same place where he abandoned the van, and where local media and police were gathered Friday night.

"He was wearing the same shorts and shoes," Mateo said, explaining how he recognized the suspect, who had since shaved his facial hair.

Two organizations offered a combined reward of $7,000 for the arrest and conviction of whoever left Maru in the backseat to die.

Mutt Match L.A. posted a $2,000 reward. PETA posted a $5,000 reward. In light of Friday night's arrest, it's not clear to whom that reward will go.

Anyone with information about Fis, the man wanted in connection with the deadly theft, is asked to call the LAPD Animal Cruelty Task Force at 213-486-0450. After hours and on weekends, tips can be reported by calling 877-LAPD-24-7.

Anonymous tips can be left by calling Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS.

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