North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron on Tuesday rebutted accusations he knew tenants in his rental house were hoarding nearly 100 dogs, dozens of which died in a weekend house fire.
The response came after political pressure mounted with a Las Vegas Valley animal rights activist calling for tougher hoarding laws.
Gina Greisen, president of Nevada Voters for Animals, said her group will pack the North Las Vegas council meeting today to express outrage over Sunday’s blaze that killed 41 dogs.
Greisen said she campaigned for Barron and was devastated when he told her Monday night he knew his renters had multiple litters. That private conversation followed a city news release quoting Barron as saying he was “completely unaware of the conditions inside the rental home.”
“This is indefensible — for the city to put out the statement,” she said Tuesday. “I think Isaac’s a nice guy, but we got to this point because he was a landlord that had full knowledge that there were unsterilized dogs in that house.”
But Barron said Greisen is blowing a comment he made out of proportion.
“They offered me one of their puppies years ago, but I didn’t take it because, frankly, I’m too busy to have a dog,” Barron said. “I don’t think it was my responsibility to dig into where they got these dogs from.”
Barron said the tenants are people he’s known for years and is friendly with but that lately things just hadn’t seemed right.
“When I noticed there was furniture accumulating on the outside I began to wonder about the inside,” Barron said.
Barron said he recently went to the house and found the lock had been changed. He tried his key to see if it fit. It didn’t.
That, coupled with months of unpaid rent, he said, made him file an eviction notice.
“They never called me for anything,” Barron said, adding that it had been more than a year since his previous visit.
A brother of the tenants said Barron had been at the house, at 2604 Stanley Ave., within the past six months.
Either way, Greisen said, the timeline is tragic — and it doesn’t pass the smell test.
The notice came around the same time animal control did, according to neighbors. Steve Maltz called in an anonymous tip as he didn’t approve of his brother Eric Maltz amassing almost 100 dogs. Steve Maltz said his brother believed he was saving the strays from being killed at a shelter.
Animal control came, but without seeing visual evidence of an excessive number of animals and having no proof of abuse, officers couldn’t just barge in, North Las Vegas police Sgt. Chrissie Coon said.
“We can’t just act on an anonymous allegation,” Coon said.
Barron said he had no idea animal control had visited the rental home.
He pointed out he wasn’t the only one who didn’t notice the scores of dogs: animal control and neighbors didn’t either.
Jessica Ortiz, a cousin of the tenants, said she had not seen the pair of brothers in about two years and was shocked by the news.
“Last time they had, like, nine dogs or something like that and at that time we thought that was crazy,” Ortiz said. “They love them. They never got married or anything and they treat the animals like their children.”
The investigation is still underway, and the fire makes sorting out whether or not the animals were abused a bit trickier. An excessive number of animals is a citation — it’s not the level of a stiffer charge of animal cruelty, Coon said.
Several of the dogs had to be treated for smoke inhalation, so judging their condition is harder, she said. Assessing the animals’ living conditions is also difficult.
The house has now been condemned, North Las Vegas fire Capt. Cedric Williams said Tuesday, with damages estimated at $75,000. Fire investigators think an electrical issue sparked the blaze.
Meanwhile, the surviving 52 dogs are being cared for by the Animal Foundation. The dogs are on a legal hold while authorities investigate, according to the Animal Foundation.
For the activists, the Wednesday council meeting signifies several high-drama events coming to a head.
This is the second animal hoarding case in North Las Vegas and the third in the valley in the past four months. The tension is also heightened as the council meeting falls on the three-year anniversary of Cooney’s law, which increased penalties for certain acts of animal cruelty in Nevada. The law is named after a dog who died after being sliced open with a box cutter.
Greisen said she is drafting a bill to address animal hoarding and also looking at what the city of North Las Vegas can do to toughen its response to pet hoarders.
In his statement, Barron said he was also looking at crafting new regulations.