Published Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 2:55 p.m.
Updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 3:22 p.m.
The 27 dogs at the center of an arson case remain in legal limbo while Clark County and a pet shop’s owner fight in court about how the animals should be adopted.
Clark County District Judge Kenneth Cory today set a March 19 hearing to further explore Donald Thompson’s allegations that the county illegally took his animals.
The judge reminded both sides that if litigation continued it would be to decide ownership of the puppies — not which rescue would be in the best interest of the dogs.
Thompson, a managing partner of the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique, launched the civil case as a way to place the puppies at a private rescue he believes to be a better fit, according to his attorney Jacob Hafter.
The Animal Foundation has been caring for the dogs since they were rescued from a Jan. 27 fire at the shop, 6870 S. Rainbow Blvd.
Thompson’s business partner and estranged wife, Gloria Lee, 35, is in custody on charges of arson and multiple counts of attempted animal cruelty in the fire. An alleged co-conspirator, Kirk Bills, 27, faces the same criminal charges. Both remain at the Clark County Detention Center on $310,000 bail each.
Last week, the Clark County Commission gave the Animal Foundation permission to find homes for the dogs via a public raffle after deciding Thompson had not claimed the dogs in a timely fashion as set out in county ordinances. Thompson contends he did not miss the legal deadline to claim the dogs.
Lisa Zastrow, an attorney for the Animal Foundation, argued even if Thompson’s claim to the dogs was timely, the shelter shouldn’t have to give the dogs back. The pet shop is a business, and the puppies are inventory, she said. If anything, the shop would be owed what the dogs are worth, Zastrow said.
Hafter argued the puppies belonged to Thompson and he could do whatever he liked with them, which included selling them or perhaps taking them to the park.
Thompson would like to give the animals to A Home 4 Spot Animal Rescue, a private organization that rigorously checks potential adopters, Hafter said.
During the hearing, lawyers traded jabs about who cared more about the puppies.
When Zastrow said the shelter had a stellar reputation for saving thousands of animals, Hafter pointed out it also kills thousands of animals.
Attorneys for Clark County and the Animal Foundation insinuated Thompson was not necessarily guilt free when it came to the fire at the shop. Thompson has not been charged in the fire.
Cory encouraged both parties to find common ground.
If both sides truly have the dogs’ best interests at heart, finding a solution outside the courtroom should be possible, the judge noted.
Christine Robinson, executive director for The Animal Foundation, who was present at the hearing, said she was open to working with A Home 4 Spot, but she wanted to talk to all of the involved parties.
Robinson also said the raffle – tickets to participate would sell for $250 apiece – wasn’t a money grab for The Animal Foundation, as some critics allege. The foundation, Robinson said, will be looking at ways to demonstrate to the public its commitment to the dogs.
The Animal Foundation will continue to care for the animals while the case proceeds, Cory ruled. The pet shop must pay an $8,000 bond to cover the costs of caring for the puppies while litigation continues, Cory added.
Hafter proposed the puppies be held by A Home 4 Spot, which was willing to care for them at no cost. Hafter argued making the bond would be a challenge since his client’s business had been destroyed.
Outside the courtroom, Hafter was confident the bond would be posted. There isn’t a firm deadline, but the judge cautioned the defendants not to plan on staging their raffle too swiftly if the bond wasn't posted immediately.
“We’ll get the money,” Hafter said. “This is Vegas. We’ll get the money.”
The official plaintiff in the case is the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique, as a corporate entity; Thompson was not present at today’s hearing.