RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Owners of a Reno puppy store facing felony animal abuse and practicing veterinary medicine without a license appeared in court Wednesday to answer those charges. Instead they asked the charges be dropped.
It was a brief appearance--as arraignments usually are--but instead of entering a plea, attorneys for Michael and Lelani Schneider told the court they would be filing writs of habeas corpus--seeking to have all the charges against them dropped.
The case against them stems from grand jury testimony alleging puppies often arrived at the store suffering from kennel cough or Giardia and were not given veterinary care.
Instead, it's alleged, they were routinely given injections and other treatments by the store's staff, primarily young adults or even teens, who were instructed by the Schneiders.
That's the basis of the four counts of practicing veterinary medicine without a license, a felony.
Their attorneys say the Schneiders are exempt from that law. "If you read the statute it says that an owner of the animal is exempt and their employees," says Michael Schneider's attorney Carter King. "Well, I don't know how many people who have pets hire employees to take care of them. I think it's referring to pet stores."
King says the pair was in constant contact with consulting licensed veterinarians--a claim directly refuted by former employees we've talked with and a former store manager who testified before the grand jury.
Mrs. Schneider faces an additional charge of torture or killing an animal. It specifically refers to the death of a cocker spaniel puppy who arrived at the store very sick and--the indictment alleges--died after she instructed employees to force feed it and treat it, but did not permit it being taken to a vet.
"Their records don't even show a dead cocker spaniel in the time frame in question," says her attorney Rick Cornell. "They did have puppies die occasionally. They'd get sick and be treated and the treatment would fail."
The case was investigated by Washoe Regional Animal Services. King says they have a bias against pet stores.
"They have this 'adopt, don't buy," says King. "They make money off of adoptions and they want a monopoly. And we think this is just an attack on pet stores. Our clients are innocent and we're going to prove it."
He added if the city doesn't like pet stores, they shouldn't permit them rather than filing criminal charges against their owners..
That--in fact--may be Mayor Schieve's long term goal. She's called a special meeting Thursday night to discuss the issue. Among the ideas she's suggested--a moratorium on the retail sales of puppies, kittens and rabbits by pet stores.
The Schneiders own another store in Sparks. It's not part of this case. Sparks city officials are watching the court case to see what happens.
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