Arson in Pet Store Lawsuit to Stop Raffle of Pups

http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/pet-store-owner-goes-court-halts-adoption-puppies-arson-case

The 27 puppies nearly burned in a January arson will remain caged after an eleventh-hour restraining order and lawsuit halted their adoption raffle.

Prince and Princess Pet Boutique, as a corporate entity, filed a temporary restraining order Friday to stop the raffle by the Animal Foundation, which has sheltered the puppies since pet shop owner Gloria Lee and her co-defendant, Kirk Bills, were accused of trying to burn down the store.

The pet shop, which is co-owned by Lee’s estranged husband, Donald Thompson, also filed a lawsuit against the Animal Foundation and Clark County seeking the return of the puppies and tens of thousands of dollars in damages. The dogs could be worth between $800 and $3,000 each.

The restraining order, which says the Animal Foundation and Clark County are “engaged in an illegal and unconstitutional taking of 27 canines,” was approved by District Judge Ken Cory. A hearing was set for Tuesday on whether to extend the restraining order until the lawsuit is resolved.

The puppies, which include Yorkshire terriers, French bulldogs and pugs, will remain caged at the Animal Foundation pending the litigation.

Earlier in the week, Thompson claimed ownership of the dogs, but his claim was ignored by county officials, said lawyer Jacob Hafter, who is representing Prince and Princess Pet Boutique. The ownership claim included a $270 deposit with the Animal Foundation, according to court papers.

Thompson doesn’t want to see the animals stuck in legal limbo, but that’s up to the county, Hafter said.

“We don’t need to do this through the courts, but they forced us to go through the courts because when we tried to make a claim properly, we got the run around,” he said.

Hafter, a Clark County judicial candidate, said the government can’t take someone’s property without compensation or due process.

Thompson wants the dogs to be given to a local animal rescue group, Home 4 Spot, which would closely screen any potential puppy adopters. The screening would include home visits. Hafter said Thompson fears the Animal Foundation’s screening isn’t up to par with Home 4 Spot.

Thompson’s “trying to do the right thing,” Hafter said. “He’s going to make sure the puppies are properly taken care of and put into really good homes. Not have the chance to be sold on the black market or the like to make a windfall by someone who just put $250 in a raffle and didn’t clear a screening process.”

Hafter said his client is a managing member of the pet shop and has the authority to take control of the dogs.

“I truly believe it is not his intention to make money. He is just trying to do the right thing for the puppies,” Hafter said.

The lawyer filed the restraining order and lawsuit midday Friday, hours before the adoption raffle was to begin.

Dozens of people were expected to purchase the $250 raffle tickets from the Animal Foundation’s website for a chance to adopt the puppies, whose plight has received national attention.

The Animal Foundation, which has accumulated more than $12,000 in expenses to shelter the dogs since the fire, declined to comment due to the ongoing litigation.

Clark County also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the man accused of trying to burn down the pet shop was indicted by a grand jury, Clark County prosecutors said Friday.

Bills, 27, was charged with trying to set fire to Lee’s Prince and Princess Pet Boutique at 6870 S. Rainbow Blvd., south of the Las Vegas Beltway, in January.

Bills faces 31 counts, including 27 counts of attempted animal cruelty, one for each puppy. Lee, 35, faces similar charges. If convicted, they could face dozens of years in prison.

Authorities say surveillance video shows Lee letting Bills into the shop, where he tried to start a fire using kerosene splashed onto the puppy cages. The blaze was extinguished by a sprinkler system, and the puppies survived unharmed.

Bills’ defense lawyer has said that the video is dark and it’s unclear who the person is in the video.

But Bills, a fledgling professional boxer from Illinois, called Lee while she was in jail and asked if a face could be seen on the video, according to court papers.

On the recording of the conversation, Bills said, “I’m not going to be able to come sign for you ’cause girl they are looking for me, too. Why are they looking for me girl, they chased me, they chased me but I got away. Did they see whose face it is?”

On Jan. 29, Bills fled from federal agents who were watching his Henderson home. He was arrested days later in Crown Point, Ind.  While authorities haven’t said what they believe Lee’s motivation was, federal bankruptcy records show she and Thompson have recently emerged from financial problems.

Lee and Thompson filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2007 to repay their debts. The case was closed in 2011.  Bills and Lee both remain jailed in the Clark County Detention Center on $310,000 bail.  An arraignment hearing was set for Bills Wednesday before District Judge David Barker. Lee is set to stand trial July 7.

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