District Judge Ken Cory has had enough of the legal squabble over who has the right to adopt out the 27 dogs nearly burned in a pet store arson case.
The veteran judge Wednesday rebuked the parties in the case for wasting tax dollars, questioned their motivation and told the lawyers for the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique, the Animal Foundation and Clark County they have until mid-May to settle the petty dispute.
“We are here seated chewing up taxpayer resources … simply to resolve who gets to place the dogs,” Cory said.
While the lawyers work out their differences, the dogs will remain caged.
Cory ordered a closed-door settlement conference within 45 days where the three parties must come to a consensus on who gets to control how the puppies will be adopted.
“May I suggest to all the parties in all earnestness this is not a good expenditure of taxpayer resources in a city where we have thousands of people, people who are homeless. In a city where we have all kinds of human needs, perhaps we would be better off to expend resources there rather than trying to save, not save dogs, no … just trying to decide who gets to place them.”
Cory questioned the motivation of the parties to continue their legal battle, rather than settle it as he suggested they do last week.
“Whatever is behind the continued animus here, the continued prolongation of these proceedings, I suggest to you is not really simply a consideration of what’s best for the dogs,” the judge said.
All parties involved in the case have said they believe they are acting in the best interest of the dogs.
The judge also muzzled the parties, barring them from speaking to journalists about the case and ordered that media cameras be kept from his courtroom in future hearings. The parties agreed to the gag order.
Cory was to hear evidence Wednesday morning to determine whether Prince and Princess Pet Boutique co-owner Donald Thompson was the rightful owner of the dogs or whether he had lost ownership rights to Clark County.
Instead, Cory granted a restraining order halting the Animal Foundation, which has held the dogs since the fire, from a planned adoption raffle until the sides settle their differences. Raffle tickets would cost $250.
The corporate entity Prince and Princess Pet Boutique and Thompson want the dogs to be given to a local animal rescue group, A Home 4 Spot, which would screen any potential puppy adopters. The screening would include home visits. A Home 4 Spot’s adoption fee averages $200 to $400 a pet.
Cory said he hoped his ruling would result in a “rapid resolution of the matter.”
Animal Foundation lawyer Lisa Zastrow said she would be willing to start the settlement conference process by Wednesday afternoon.
Animal activists were outraged by the ruling.
Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals, who has led efforts to fund Thompson’s legal battle, said she was “disgusted” by the ruling and called it a “travesty.”
Greisen accused the Animal Foundation of holding the dogs hostage. She said at least two of the dogs are sick and there is a respiratory illness spreading among the animals at the shelter.
The Animal Foundation is “keeping them in cages in a diseased shelter all for the purposes of turning a profit,” Greisen said.
“If they really cared about these puppies they would have released them immediately to A Home 4 Spot.”
Greisen also suggested the dogs could be put in foster homes pending the case.
Instead they are taking up cages of other animals who will be put to death as a result, she said. “While they’re killing dogs today, they could easily let these 27 go and put other dogs in those cages that are going to die, and A Home 4 Spot would find great homes for these dogs. But instead they continue to fight over these dogs,” she said.
The county took charge of the 27 dogs that include 25 puppies, after a January arson at the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique.
Gloria Lee, 35, who is the pet shop’s majority owner and Thompson’s estranged wife, and fledgling boxer Kirk Bills, 27, face 31 charges, including 27 counts of attempted animal cruelty, for the fire. A trial date was set for July 7.
Surveillance video from the pet shop shows a woman letting a man wearing a hood and showing dreadlocks into the shop, where he tried to start a fire using kerosene and gasoline splashed onto the animal cages. The woman is seen removing documents from the business and helping the hooded man by collecting the empty fuel cans before the fire is set.
Prosecutors say the man and woman in the video are Bills and Lee.
The blaze was quickly extinguished by a sprinkler system in the store, and the dogs survived unharmed.