Dog Killed in Arson Fire: Remembered in Ceremony on Venice Beach

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Togo and Doctor Courtney Gillenwater at Venice Beach. The dog was killed in a fire.

A ceremony was held May 2 on Venice Beach to honor an 8-month old dog, Togo, and his owner, Dr. Courtney Gillenwater.

The dog perished in an alleged arson fire in the early a.m. on April 21 in Venice. Gillenwater, a pediatrician, was at work, when her bungalow, located close to Westminster Avenue Elementary, was set on fire. According to LAFD, it is suspected that an accelerant was used.

Longtime Venice resident Carl Lieberman told in an April 28 story, (“Pediatrician’s Husky-mix Togo dies in suspected arson that destroyed her home in ‘lawless’ Venice Beach”) how his son tried to save the young pup by attempting to smash open the door and windows but couldn’t get to the dog because of the scorching flames.

“There were clouds of dark smoke which made it really hard to see. We heard barking and whimpering, until no more sounds could be heard. It’s absolutely devastating,” Lieberman said.

Gillenwater, a U.S. Navy veteran, lost everything in the fire.

She spoke to John and Ken on their radio show (AM 640) on April 22 (“Burnt Out Venice Homeowner Speaks to John and Ken.  She said she believed her dog was targeted by drug abusers who would gather by a dumpster near her home and become angry when Togo barked at them. Just before the fire, the illegal dumpster had been removed. CLICK HERE.

She told the radio hosts that people would stand on the bins and look in her windows. She said she had contacted Councilman Mike Bonin’s office about her concerns. When one of the radio hosts asked specifically if she had ever had a response from Bonin, especially after the tragic fire, she said she had not.

A website has been set up in Togo’s memory ( and states: “Togo is our unsung HERO to bringing reform to Venice. Born during the Pandemic, he saved us not knowing we needed saving… We are determined to give meaning to this senseless loss and bring attention to the violence in Venice that has terrorized both our housed and unhoused neighbors. We want to call out our absent politicians who ignore the cries of the community. We demand action, we demand change.”

Midnight Runners have set up a GoFundMe page in Togo’s memory that has raised over $20,000, much of which Gillenwater stated would go to the dog rescue where she’d found the husky mix she “instantly fell in love with.”

Gillenwater, a five-foot-two pediatrician, is a U.S. Goodwill Ambassador and international humanitarian, with a history of volunteering as a physician in disaster areas, humanitarian crises and post-conflict zones.

After undergrad at the U.S. Naval Academy and University of Florida, Gillenwater went into medicine, first at Miami’s public county hospital and then as a resident at LA’s public county hospital at USC.

Much of the doctor’s work is focused on providing medical care to poor and underprivileged patients and disaster victims.

Gillenwater helped establish a free children’s surgical clinic in India with the international charity, Operation Smile. And she’s taken part in a series of international humanitarian missions, ranging from earthquake disaster relief in Nepal, to refugee sea rescues and volunteering as a pediatrician for refugee children in Greece.

In New York City she advocated for refugees with the New York City Refugee and Asylee Health Coalition and volunteered to help counsel victims at the NYU Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture.

She became a voice for refugees worldwide as one of 12 individual American doctors on the amicus federal court case versus Trump’s Immigration/Muslim Travel Ban.

An arsonist’s fire destroyed this Venice home and killed a pet. 
Photo: Venice Current

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