Police investigating after owners accuse dog trainer of abuse, neglect after injuries, disappearances

Dog owners in Encino, South Gate and Downey are accusing DogFit23 of abuse and negligence. 

"When is it going to stop? How many more dogs have to get hurt or lost," asked Angelia Gaxiola of Encino. 

In January, Gaxiola took her beloved Keeno, a German Shepherd to DogFit23 in South Gate for a seven-day training session with owner Eli Hernandez. A few days later, she received the devastating news that Keeno was missing. 

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Gaxiola’s fiancée, Sergio Ornelas said, "He doesn't show any empathy, he gaslights you. He blamed Keeno running away on Keeno."

FOX 11 reached out to Hernandez for comment on Keeno. He told us, "In a training session, he got away. He took off running. He was a very fast dog and I wasn’t able to keep up with him. We made efforts to look for him." 

It’s been more than 6 months and Keeno is still missing. 

DogFit23 has other complaints from clients who say their dogs were injured while under Hernandez’s care.  

"I was shocked to see the injuries he had to his face," said Jacky Villalobos, of South Gate.

Villalobos paid Hernandez $700 for a seven-day training session. She dropped off her dog, a full-breed boxer named Koko. When Villalobos picked him up, part of Koko’s facial skin had been torn off. 

"When they took off the muzzle, it looked like his skin was attached to the muzzle because he lost a lot of skin on his face. If you look at his neck, he has cuts and lacerations on his neck," said Villalobos.  

We asked Hernandez for an explanation on Koko’s injuries. He said, "He (Koko) busted out of the kennel and he injured himself."  

Another couple in Downey hired Hernandez to train their Malinois named Buck. Before the seven-day training session was over, they learned Buck had been attacked by another canine staying at DogFit23.

Buck ended up at vet hospital with a leg injury. 

"It was not just his leg, it was actually his whole neck, the top of his head and he had lost so much weight," Buck's owner, Irma Navarro said.

In his defense, Hernandez said, "I’ve had some accidents yes, and like I said, I do my best to make sure every single dog goes back better than what he came. I do have dogs that have behavioral issues and they do get into accidents." 

When we asked Hernandez where he received his training, he responded by saying, "I have life experience."  

Captain Darren Arakawa of the South Gate Police department told FOX 11 that DogFit23 is currently under investigation. 

"We’re gonna look at everything with our animal control services and determine whether or not he’s capable of conducting these services that he’s offering and to determine whether there is negligence on his part," he said.

In Keeno’s case, Hernandez was taken to court and he was ordered to pay $2,000.  

In Koko’s and Buck’s case, Hernandez refunded the $700 training fee and he did pay for Buck’s vet bill.

But to these dog parents, it’s not enough. They want DogFit23 to be shutdown. 

"We just don't want anyone to feel the way we do on a daily basis," Gaxiola said.

Hernandez’ attorney, Jorge Ledezma issued the following statement: 

"DOGFIT23 is proud of the work they do training dogs on behalf of dog owners in the community. DOGFIT23 has trained well over 400 dogs over the last few years. Less than .1% of DOGFIT23 clients have reported incidents or complaints. 

Regarding the incident involving Kino, the public should know that Kino ran away in a training session. Unfortunately, all efforts to catch and bring Kino home failed. Subsequently, Kino’s owners filed a lawsuit. As part of the lawsuit, Kino’s owners accepted payment of $2,000 from DOGFIT23 as full compensation for their loss several months ago. The fact that Kino’s owners have gone to the news media with her allegations after having been fully compensated shows that their intentions are driven by irrational animosity. 

In separate incident, one dog nipped another dog. DOGFIT23 covered all vet bills related to this incident. 
The public is aware that some dogs who come to DOGFIT23 have behavioral issues. Under respected industry standards, a small percentage of incidents is part and parcel of the business. 

DOGFIT23 is fully insured and makes itself responsible for any injuries that may happen while the dogs are under their care."

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