A 31-year-old man released from jail Thursday admitted he poured bleach on a young opossum that died Saturday after he placed it in trash can behind a pizzeria in Santa Cruz, according to an animal control officer. Alan Thomas Rockwood, a Santa Cruz resident arrested last Saturday on suspicion of animal cruelty, was released from the jail Thursday following his confession to officers that he put bleach on the animal, the Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter Officer Todd Stosuy said.
According to a necropsy by a veterinarian on the body of the opossum, the animal died Saturday of pneumonia and its lungs have been sent for further microscopic examination to find evidence of bleach, Stosuy said. The events leading the opossum’s death occurred on Saturday, at the South Beach Pizza Company at 303 Beach St. in Santa Cruz, where Rockwood, an employee of the business, allegedly poured bleach on the opossum and left it inside a trash container in the rear of the pizzeria, Stosuy said.
Dany Pena, who worked for the restaurant that day, said today that he was in rear of the place when two employees told him that Rockwood had poured bleach on an animal and to look inside a trash can covered by a piece of cardboard. “It was the most heartbreaking image I’ve ever seen,” said Pena, who has since resigned his position as head chef after working four years there.
Pena said he picked up the animal, which was still alive, noticed it smelled of bleach and left the business with it to the home of a friend, who drove him and the sick opossum to the Native Animal Rescue shelter in Santa Cruz, where it perished about an hour later. “I was in tears when I was running out of (the restaurant),” he said. Pena said he does not know how the opossum got to the pizzeria, but he heard that a relative of one of the co-owners caught it that morning and ordered Rockwood, the eatery’s assistant manager, to pour bleach on it to kill it.
Pena said he quit the business due to the incident and after word spread to the media about the animal’s death, the restaurant’s lawyer put out a statement implying he was a just a disgruntled employee. “All I did was try to rescue an animal,” Pena said. According to Pena, a co-owner of the pizzeria tried to get him not to report the incident to authorities. After learning about Rockwood’s confession, Pena said, “I do feel vindicated. That’s such a load off my shoulders.” Four of the restaurant’s other employees have quit since the incident and Rockwood has been fired, Pena said. The owners of South Beach Pizza, which is described as “family owned” on its website, did not return calls for comment today.
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