Long-time Buffalo Bills fans Terri and Billy Sottile were the lucky winners in a raffle that let them take home C.J. Spiller.
Not the Bills and former Clemson University running back, but their new 5-month-old Maltese puppy. They were the first to adopt officially one of more than two dozen puppies and two adult dogs rescued after a January pet store fire investigators say was arson.
The Sottiles arrived at The Animal Foundation in Las Vegas at 10 a.m. Thursday to claim their prize. The dog’s name was originally Kenneth, but the 53-year-old Clemson alumnus and his wife, 54, decided to name him after their favorite football player.
“Every one of the 25 should be named ‘Lucky,’ ” Sottile said as he smoothed C.J.’s feathery tufts of white hair.
The dogs were rescued from the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique after police say majority owner Gloria Lee, 35, and co-conspirator Kirk Bills, 27, tried to set the shop on fire. The pair face 31 charges in connection with the blaze, including 27 counts of animal cruelty. Surveillance video from the fire shows a woman letting a man into the pet shop, where he doused animal cages with kerosene and gasoline.
No animals were hurt.
After being inundated with more than 1,000 inquiries from all over the country in the past couple of months, the foundation selected winners electronically in the “Arson Puppy Adoption Drawing” on Wednesday. Each chance cost $250.
The Sottiles called the legal battle over the dogs’ fate “sickening.”
Lee’s estranged husband and pet store minority owner, Donald Thompson, pursued a civil lawsuit against Clark County and The Animal Foundation about the puppies, but the involved parties reached an agreement March 21 allowing for their adoption.
“It was like they were holding them hostage,” Sottile said.
Trina Pascucci, 46, wasn’t looking for a new pet. She already had an 8½-year-old teacup poodle. But when her fiancé heard about the fire and found a picture of the miniature poodle mix now named Audrey Hepburn — formerly Aideen — they had to try to save her.
“I bought clothes from that store,” Pascucci said with disgust. “I can’t imagine how traumatized these animals are.”
Gigi Fouillade, 28, and Jarad Beckman, 31, were at the foundation to adopt Effie, a 3-month-old Yorkshire terrier mix.
Based on her avid tail-wagging, their westie, Belle, was just as excited for the introduction. “We’re hoping Belle is a good influence,” Beckman said.
The Henderson couple also went through a thorough screening before they were able to adopt.
“They did a good job vetting,” Beckman said. The foundation requested they put mesh screening over a side gate and asked them questions they hadn’t even thought of, like how they would handle a fight between their pets.
Animal Foundation spokeswoman Meghan Scheibe said that of the $55,500 raised in the raffle, about $49,250 will be put into a reserve fund to help their more than 70 partner organizations with the costs associated with saving animals. The online adoption raffle had 222 bids from Sunday through Tuesday.
“These media darlings are getting more attention for the animals that are already here,” Pascucci said.
For those that bought into the raffle but were not chosen, the entry fee can be considered a tax-deductible donation, or they can pick another shelter animal to adopt through Sept. 30.
Wesley Juhl contributed to this report. Contact reporter Kimber Laux at email@example.com or at 702-383-0391.