A dog owner charged with animal cruelty says he isn’t “stupid” or a “bad man” and was simply following the directions of the dog’s trainer in a viral video last week that eventually led to his arrest.
The incident happened last Thursday afternoon in a parking area at the LaBagh Woods Nature Preserve on the Northwest Side.
The video shows a woman running toward a gold Toyota Camry as she yells “stop your car!” A man, later identified as 69-year-old Nelson Benitez, can be seen holding the dog’s leash through the driver’s side window as he drives forward and the dog jogs alongside. The dog appears to want to stop or is having trouble keeping up with the car.
Speaking in Spanish, the woman recording the video told the owner that the dog couldn’t walk and that she was calling police.
Cook County Forest Preserve Police officers went to the lot about 3 p.m., watched the video and spoke to witnesses, a spokeswoman said.
On Monday evening, officers arrested Benitez, who now faces a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty and is due back in court next month.
But the video doesn’t tell the whole story or show any sign of animal cruelty, said Benitez, an Albany Park resident.
With his dog Dexter barking in the background, Benitez, a native Spanish speaker, told the Sun-Times in a phone conversation Tuesday that he was out on his daily walk with his German shepherd when the woman ran up to him yelling.
A dog trainer at Petco had told Benitez to take Dexter on 20-minute walks before his training appointment because the 11-month-old was barking too much during the sessions.
“Dexter is very energetic,” Benitez said. “He’s very fun.”
The day of the incident, Benitez had just eaten lunch and couldn’t go on his usual run with Dexter, he said. So, he let his car idle at a “very slow” speed while the German shepherd ran alongside.
“When you take the dog very fast, the dog has a problem with its legs,” Benitez said. “That’s why I would never go fast.”
Benitez, who takes Dexter with him anytime he leaves home, said he has plenty of experience training dogs and is sensitive to the cruelty accusations. He said he has taught self-defense and preventative violence classes at schools for years and would never want to hurt any person or animal.
“I am not stupid. I am not a bad man,” he said. “I don’t have cruelty.”
Benitez will be allowed to keep the dog after officers who reviewed the incident and the dog’s living situation decided there was no additional threat to the animal, police said.