Danny Fis, 29, faces a charge of unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle and one count of cruelty to an animal after he allegedly left a 10-year-old dog to die in the van he's charged with stealing.
He pleaded not guilty in a Van Nuys courtroom Tuesday. He was held on $45,000 bail and was scheduled for another court appearance on Sept. 10.
"Maru" had been a member of the Mateo family for the last decade, and had been 2-year-old Lucy's constant companion.
The Labrador was found dead in the family's closed-up minivan at Weddington Golf and Tennis in Studio City just days after the vehicle was stolen.
The dog's owner had left the minivan running with the air-conditioning on while he ran in to a store to get his family.
Fis, a transient, was captured on surveillance cameras at Weddington when he left the vehicle. He was arrested at the complex just days later after the dog's owners spotted him on the street.
Maru's owners say the suspect's arrest will help them move forward as they grieve for their treasured pet.
"My wife, she's been really bad, my baby keeps asking for the dog, but we are going to get better," said the dog's owner, Nayo Mateo.