When Patrick Luciano purchased an English bulldog earlier this year from Pets in the City, a pet shop in the southwest corner of the Valley, he says, the animal had health issues, including giardia and a hernia, and was in out of vets’ offices constantly. After several months, Luciano had racked up a few thousand dollars in bills. He says that the dog eventually passed away from a heart attack.
He recently purchased three more bulldog puppies from owner Dora To—after her store had closed in June—in an effort to get other sick dogs treatment. To sold him the dogs, he says, at a Home Depot and at Pandora’s Lounge, To’s bar on North Rainbow.
“It seems she didn’t take it personally,” says Luciano. “It was very cut-and-dried. This is a business, a way to make money.”
All three of the new bulldogs had health issues, he says. One suffered from spina bifida, a congenital spinal deformity, and was put down at a bulldog rescue. The other two suffered from ear mites, roundworm and giardia. He says it’s normal for dogs to deal with some parasites, “but when the dog’s got diarrhea and vomiting around the clock, it’s a big deal.”
He believes the dogs were not properly cared for by To. “Imagine the ride you’re in for. You think you’re buying a healthy dog, and in a week you’re in the vet’s office.”
For animal-rights activists, Dora To’s business was an example of pet-store owners purchasing their puppies from puppy mills—breeders that, although they may operate legally, still do not take care of the animals they raise. Veterinarian Clarissa Engstrom, chairwoman of the Clark County Animal Advisory Committee, says she’s “very upset with a lot of the puppy stores in town. They’re bringing resistant infections into the community.” She describes To’s business as “one of the worst.”
Engstrom and others are alarmed at the prospect of To still trying to sell dogs in the county. Pets in the City opened in 2003. The report of complaints against To investigated by Clark County Animal Control goes back to July 2005 and runs 10 pages. Most of the complaints are anonymous, but they broadly allege that the puppies were in overcrowded conditions, many were visibly ill, and they were held in unsanitary conditions. Many of the investigating officers’ reports note that the place seemed to be in decent condition, and just before the shop closed an investigator noted the puppies all appeared to be in fair to good health. But a month before, the store was cited for failure to prevent disease and failure to provide vet examinations, among other issues.
To’s opponents say that Pets in the City was shut down by county officials in June, but To says she closed her store voluntarily. “My lease is over,” she explains. “The place is too big for me, so to afford a big space like that I had to sell more dogs. Because of the dogs I had in there, it makes people angry at me and claims I’m a puppy mill.”
To says most of the pressure is coming from a Utah-based animal-welfare organization called Best Friends Animal Society. She says the group encouraged people to picket her store and threatened to continue doing so until she was shut down.
But Best Friends says this is not so. “Best Friends never headed up or organized any protest against that store,” says Best Friends’ Kelli Ohrtman.
There’s a wealth of negative postings about To and her store on the Internet. A lot of it is so emotionally overwrought as to be incoherent—one comment blasts her as “psychotic, RUDE, AND BARELY SPEAKS ENGLISH”—but these comments are consistent with some of the complaints received by Animal Control. When I went to see her at Pandora’s early this week, To had a lengthy list of handwritten notes from supporters commending the store and her care for her animals.
When Pets in the City closed, To briefly moved her dogs to a storefront in Pahrump. But she wasn’t there long. Her foes say she was shut down by Nye County Animal Control (the department made no comment for this story). She says she left because the local economy was too depressed, and no one could afford to buy puppies. “They all come in and look, but they don’t buy. What am I doing there? I’m not a zoo.” She says that selling the animals to Luciano at Home Depot and Pandora’s Lounge was simply a question of trying to bring the dogs someplace convenient from their quarters in Pahrump.
To found a smaller store to operate in Summerlin, but was denied a license by the city of Las Vegas, which claimed, she says, that they had too many complaints from her previous store. She hasn’t decided whether she’s going to appeal the city’s decision yet. Right now she’s planning to open a pet-supply store, and she says she’s given all her dogs away.
Clark County has an open case on her, according to a spokesman, but he wouldn’t discuss the details. To says she’s been in business in Las Vegas for nearly 33 years, and has degrees in hotel management and zoology from UNLV. She says she was singled out because she’s the biggest pet store in town. She believes she’s cared for the animals. “Do you think I’m that crazy to buy dogs and abuse them and sell them? People will sue you. I’m in business, I don’t need that. I’m not crazy. I have very good sense.”