Police are investigating a Las Vegas pet store that an animal rights group alleges houses sick puppies.
The Metropolitan Police Department’s animal cruelty unit opened the investigation into the Petland store at 8800 W. Charleston Blvd. on Nov. 21, police spokesman Larry Hadfield said.
That location, in the Boca Park shopping center, is one of two stores nationwide targeted by the Humane Society of the United States with hidden cameras, according to a report with accompanying video. The other store is in Kennesaw, Georgia.
The Humane Society activists who gained employment at the stores were seeking to learn more after the organization received several complaints about the pet store chain, according to the Humane Society.
The store’s manager said the video was edited to be deliberately unfair and make the business look bad. The Humane Society, in the report, said “human law enforcement” was alerted to a sick Maltese puppy but found no legal reason to prevent Petland from returning the animal to its supplier.
Petland’s Las Vegas store held “numerous” sick puppies, including the Maltese that was being held in a cage in the back of the store, the group’s report alleges.
A woman working in November at the Las Vegas location filmed an employee saying the store was expecting the Maltese, which she said had “a hole in his throat,” to die. But store manager Brian Parker rejected that claim, saying the puppy was sick because of swollen tonsils, and its airway had restricted.
“Not a hole in the throat, or the puppy wouldn’t be alive,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday.
A segment of the released video shows the Humane Society activist having a conversation with the manager, in which Parker said he didn’t know what happened to sick puppies when they’re sent back to the breeder.
“She left out the whole 5½ minutes of me being sincere about the puppy,” he said Tuesday. “It was a cut-and-paste video with ill intentions.”
The woman wearing the camera learned the dog was to be returned to a distributor, Missouri-based Pinnacle Pet, for a refund. She offered to take home the animal herself, the report said, but the store manager declined, saying the store had already received its refund for the dog. Parker on Tuesday said the woman demanded to bring home the sick puppy on her second day on the job.
The Maltese was sent back to the animal supplier, Parker said Tuesday.
“It’s our policy to send them back to the breeders for proper care,” he said.
The store is looking into what happened with the sick puppy and whether the activist broke any laws while working for Petland, Parker said.
Allegations of crowded puppy cages and injured birds were included in the group’s report.
Parker said birds and other small animals can be injured in the store when small children pick them up. Many birds and other small animals are kept in an “open petter-style environment,” according to the store’s website.
“We do have to tend to some animals with injuries,” Parker said. “It’s not the painted picture that we have all these injured animals.”
Parker said while the store’s puppies come from breeders who “breed heavily,” the animals are not from so-called “puppy mills.”
“We’d be out of business — those things are so unhealthy,” he said about purchasing from abusive breeders.“We buy from breeders that are fully USDA licensed.”
In the time he’s worked at the store, Parker said he frequently sees protesters, some of whom will enter the store with signs and cameras.
“I can say I understand both sides,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t want anyone dictating to him where to get a puppy. “Our intentions are not ill.”
Two puppies were stolen in a smash-and-grab burglary that occurred Sept. 28 at the same Petland store. The puppies, a 2-month-old Pomeranian and a German shepherd, were found the next week.
The Pomeranian, which weighed just 2 pounds, was returned to Petland in the Boca Park shopping center with pink fur but otherwise healthy, assistant manager Vanessa Greene said at the time. The German shepherd puppy also was found in good health.
Las Vegas police said a man used his skateboard to shatter the store’s glass entrance and took off with the dogs.
The man, identified by police as 31-year-old Sean Ross, was arrested in connection with the case and pleaded guilty to grand larceny. He is slated to be sentenced Jan. 29.
Pet store regulation
In 2016, the Las Vegas City Council passed a bill that precluded pet shops from selling animals unless obtained from an animal care facility or nonprofit rescue organization. But the ordinance, delayed for two years to give stores time to adjust their business models, was repealed by a new-look council on Nov. 15, 2017, before it took effect.
Elected officials who backed the repeal said that such a ban wouldn’t necessarily curb the flow of animals from so-called puppy mills into the city.
Councilman Steve Seroka, who supported the repeal and who represents Ward 2 where Petland is located, sponsored a replacement bill, passed in June, that mandated pet stores may only sell animals from breeders if those breeders were in compliance with the city and U.S. Department of Agriculture, which can issue citations for violating the Animal Welfare Act.
The bill also required pet stores and distributors to maintain a business license and professional handler’s permit and submit reports to the city for audits, among other requirements.
“They gave us a lot more rigor and ability to ensure we were dealing with reputable breeders,” Seroka said Tuesday about the regulations, adding that city officials also were working with the county to cut off entry points for puppy-mill animals at the airport.
“There’s more work to be done, but I think we made big strides in influencing the behavior we would like out of our pet stores and our distributors and our breeders,” he said.
— Shea Johnson