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November 23, 2017

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As Las Vegas mulls repeal of pet-shop law, one store braces for closure

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Mikayla Whitmore

A look inside Puppy Boutique in Las Vegas on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Left, store owner Paul Tomas plays with a dog for sale while Ivan looks on.

Puppy Boutique

A look inside Puppy Boutique in Las Vegas, Nev. on November 10, 2017. Launch slideshow »

A local pet shop owner says his business will be forced to close if an ordinance scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 isn’t repealed by Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday.

Puppy Boutique at Craig Ranch and Rancho Drive is one of two businesses that would be affected by an ordinance prohibiting pet shops from selling dogs, cats or pot-bellied pigs unless they were obtained from a shelter or nonprofit rescue organization. (The other affected business is a Petland outlet at Rampart and Charleston boulevards.)

The council narrowly passed the ordinance in January 2016 but scheduled it to go into effect two years later in order to give the two affected pet shops a chance to adjust their business model accordingly. But that’s a financial impossibility for Puppy Boutique, says owner Paul Tomas.

He says the store derives up to 90 percent of its profits from selling puppies — the cheapest of which retails for $1,200. Some pet products like luxury travel bags are also sold, but Tomas says his customers consistently say they prefer shopping at the larger outlets like PetSmart because they offer a wider selection and lower prices.

Relocating his business into unincorporated Clark County, which does not have an ordinance banning pet shops from selling breeder-sourced pets, is his most realistic option, but even that has hurdles.

“I have years left on my lease,” says Tomas, who opened Puppy Boutique in 2006.

Tomas believes the ordinance is well-intentioned but misplaced. The ordinance was designed to stop support of so-called puppy mills that keep puppies in inhumane conditions, as well as to support local adoptions at the overcrowded shelters and rescues. Tomas says he and his manager visit their breeders annually to make sure all the animals are being kept in pristine conditions, and that their puppies get more vet checkups than the law demands and come with a warranty covering health issues.

“The other day on Simmons (Street) I saw someone in a truck selling puppies,” says manager Kathleen Vinluan, adding that the city should be cracking down on unlicensed backyard breeders if it wants to control the pet overpopulation problem. “If we close, you’re just pushing people to them.”

Adds Tomas, “We are paying taxes. We are contributing.”

Council members Michele Fiore and Steve Seroka, who were not on the board when the ordinance was narrowly passed in 2016, have both expressed concern for the possible shuttering of two local businesses. Fiore has also called the ordinance a violation of an individual’s right to own the breed of dog they want.

“Animals are very special and particular to a family, especially one with newborns,” she said at a previous council meeting where the ordinance was discussed. “This ordinance doesn’t give animal lovers a choice. … I won’t go to Petland or Puppy Boutique and get a mutt when I want an English mastiff.”

When the ordinance passed two years ago, it did so narrowly with a 4-3 vote. Current Council members Bob Coffin, Lois Tarkanian and Stavros Anthony voted in favor of the ordinance, as did then-Councilman Bob Beers. Carolyn Goodman, Councilman Ricki Barlow and then-Councilman Steve Ross voted against it.

Since then, Seroka replaced Beers and Fiore replaced Ross. That means the ordinance may not have the support it needs to stay in place.

Tomas and Virluan say they are cautiously optimistic the ordinance will be repealed.

Meanwhile, animal advocates in support of the ordinance are furious that a repeal is even being considered.

“It has been two years,” says Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals, which worked on the ordinance two years when it was first proposed to the city. “The people spoke — loud and clear — an in overwhelming support of this. It was not 50-50. It was hundreds of hours of testimony.”

The repeal is being fast-tracked, which means it is skipping over a recommending committee hearing and being heard only by the full council after being introduced at the last city council meeting. Fast-tracking bills is not uncommon, according to city officials, but Greisen thinks it is irresponsible for the council to do so when they know it’s a controversial issue.

“The community isn’t going to know this conversation is taking place,” she says, adding that the time allotted to people during public comment is typically shorter in full council meetings than during recommending committees. “Everyone worked so hard (two years ago). There was a huge turnout. There were tons of people at that recommending committee. You got more time — two or three minutes.”

Greisen and other advocates don’t see the ordinance as misplaced but instead as one important component of a multistep plan needed to address overpopulation in shelters. Cracking down on backyard breeders is another component.

“All the stakeholders need to be involved,” says Greisen. “It’s a win-win.”

Dozens of municipalities have successfully banned the sale of breeder-sourced puppies from pet shops. California recently did so at the state level. Additionally, major retailers like PetSmart and Petco have voluntarily been moving away from selling puppies sourced from breeders and toward hosting adoption events for local nonprofits and rescues.

Councilwoman Tarkanian noted during an earlier discussion that repealing the ordinance would mean the city was moving in the opposite direction of the rest of the country.

Greisen says Tarkanian initially did not support the ordinance but changed her mind after learning more about similar efforts nationwide and speaking with a pet shop that successfully changed its business model.

Las Vegas City Council will discuss the pet shop ordinance at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The council is accepting online comments regarding the possible repeal of the ordinance here.