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Surveillance video released, puppies to remain at shelter

The 27 dogs nearly burned in a pet store arson will remained caged for now.

A district judge set an evidence hearing for next week to determine several issues, including whether Donald Thompson and the corporate entity Prince and Princess Pet Boutique are the rightful owners of the dogs, which include 25 puppies and two adult canines.

Prince and Princess Pet Boutique filed a temporary restraining order Friday to stop an adoption raffle by the Animal Foundation, which has sheltered the puppies since pet shop owner Gloria Lee and her co-defendant, Kirk Bills, were accused of trying to burn down the store. Lee is the estranged wife of Thompson, who is a managing member of the pet shop, according to records with the Secretary of State.

Judge Ken Cory also ordered an $8,000 bond be placed by the pet shop to pay for the Animal Foundation’s fees. If the bond is not paid, the Animal Foundation could go ahead with the adoption raffle.

A coalition of animal-loving activists, led by Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals, were helping Thompson raise the $8,000 through social media to keep the dogs from being raffled off by the Animal Foundation.

Greisen has called the raffle unethical and illegal under Clark County Code.

Lawyer Jacob Hafter, who is representing Prince and Princess Pet Boutique, said Thompson wants the dogs to be given to a local animal rescue group, A Home 4 Spot, which would closely screen any potential puppy adopters. The screening would include home visits. A Home 4 Spot’s adoption fee averages between $200 to $400 a pet.

Thompson did not attend Tuesday’s hearing but could be called as a witness next week, Hafter said.

Hafter said it doesn’t make any sense why the county and the Animal Foundation are fighting the release of the dogs to A Home 4 Spot, which would save taxpayers money.

“I don’t understand why the county or the Animal Foundation is doing it accept for their own pride and desire to make money off the raffle from the puppies,” he said.

Christine Robinson, executive director of the Animal Foundation, denied that accusation.

“We have no intent to make money on this raffle,” she said. “We have never had any intent to make money on this process. This is not any kind of money-grabbing exercise at all. It is an exercise to find 27 dogs good homes.”

Hafter said if the county and the Animal Foundation released the dogs to A Home 4 Spot, his client would drop all claims. The pet shop has also filed a lawsuit against the Animal Foundation and Clark County seeking the return of the puppies and tens of thousands of dollars in damages. The dogs could be worth between $800 and $3,000 each.

The Animal Foundation’s lawyer, Lisa Zastrow, called Thompson and the pet shop disingenuous for wanting the dogs to be given to A Home 4 Spot so they could thoroughly vet those seeking to adopt the dogs. The pet shop wasn’t vetting owners when they were trying to sell them, Zastrow said.

“What they are really trying to do, your honor, is come in and tell the court that the plaintiff (the pet shop) should be able to dictate what the county does and what our client does,” with the dogs, Zastrow said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Last week, Thompson claimed ownership of the dogs, but his claim was ignored by county officials, Hafter said. The ownership claim included a $270 deposit paid by A Home 4 Spot to the Animal Foundation, according to court papers.

But lawyers for Clark County and the Animal Foundation said ownership rights were lost because the shop and Thompson did not make a claim in the proper time period under county law. They asked Cory to lift the restraining order so they could go ahead with the planned raffle.

Dozens of people were expected to purchase $250 raffle tickets from the Animal Foundation’s website for a chance to adopt the puppies, whose plight has received national attention.

The Animal Foundation has accumulated more than $25,000 in expenses to shelter the dogs since the fire, their lawyer said.

The puppies, which include Yorkshire terriers, French bulldogs and pugs, will remain at the Animal Foundation pending the litigation.

If there was one thing all sides in the legal wrangling agreed on, it was that they each were acting in the “best interest of the puppies.”

Meanwhile, Bills, 27, and Lee, 35, face 31 charges, including 27 counts of attempted animal cruelty, one for each puppy. If convicted, they could face dozens of years in prison.

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 puppy cages. The woman is also 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.

Lee later told investigators that she was forced at gunpoint to let the man into the store, and she said her estranged husband, Thompson, was behind the arson, according to grand jury testimony. But authorities didn’t believe her because she appeared to be working with the man in the video.

The dark video, obtained Tuesday by the Review-Journal, shows the flames spreading across the floor of the pet shop and onto the cages. Some dogs, trapped in cages, can be seen scrambling away from the blaze as smoke rises.

Temperatures in the store likely reached 165 degrees when the sprinkler system activated, extinguishing the fire and saving the dogs, which all survived unharmed, according to grand jury testimony.

Bills’ defense lawyer has said it’s unclear who the person is in the video.

But Bills, a fledgling professional boxer from Illinois, called Lee while she was in jail and asked if a face could be seen on the video, according to court papers.

On the recording of the conversation, Bills said, “I’m not going to be able to come sign for you ’cause girl they are looking for me, too. Why are they looking for me girl, they chased me, they chased me but I got away. Did they see whose face it is?”

On Jan. 29, Bills fled from federal agents who were watching his Henderson home. He was arrested days later in Crown Point, Ind.

While authorities haven’t said what they believe Lee’s motivation was, federal bankruptcy records show she and Thompson have recently emerged from financial problems.

Lee and Thompson filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2007 to repay their debts. The case was closed in 2011.

Bills and Lee both remain jailed in the Clark County Detention Center on $310,000 bail.

An arraignment hearing was set for Bills on Wednesday before District Judge David Barker. Lee is set to stand trial July 7.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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