Having one of the worst-ever neglect cases in Nye County, Nevada, is not easy
PAHRUMP, Nevada––Caucasian Ovcharka breeders Vasili Platunov and Oksana Higgins strung the authorities of Nye County, Nevada along for years with one excuse after another for failing to comply with some of the lightest and least enforced animal care and control ordinances in the United States.
Unincorporated Pahrump, a city of 25,000, and Nye County, surrounding it, have hosted more animal hoarding situations, more breeders and keepers of dangerous animals, and more fatal and disfiguring attacks by dangerous dogs and exotic pets than any other U.S. jurisdiction of comparable population.
But the Nye County authorities involved in the Platunov/Higgins case may have exceeded even the past county record for prolonged indifference, incompetence, and defense of the inexcusable, despite many pleas for intervention from neighbors and witnesses.
Authorities knew for years
Reported Darcy Spears of KTNV/Las Vegas on September 9, 2022, after nine months of frequent previous reports about the Platunov/Higgins case, “Hundreds of dogs in Nye County endured severe starvation and suffering. When authorities finally took action against the breeder, it was too late for many of the animals.
“13 Investigates obtained records and internal emails showing a lot of that suffering could have been prevented, but authorities failed to act. Nye County Animal Control, the sheriff’s office and the district attorney have known for years that there were big problems with Vasili Platunov’s dogs,” Spears charged.
“Multiple animal cruelty charges”
“On August 22, 2022,” Spears recounted, “nearly 300 Caucasian shepherd dogs [Ovarchkas] were seized from breeder Vasili Platunov and his ex-wife, Oksana Higgins.”
Platunov and Higgins “now face multiple animal cruelty charges stemming from lack of care and inhumane conditions at two properties in Amargosa and Pahrump,” Spears said.
Spears learned that “So far, 21 of the dogs have been euthanized because they were in such bad shape they couldn’t be saved, and 26 more were discovered in one of four grave sites on the Amargosa property.”
Nye County Commission chair Frank Carbone, long an influential Platunov enabler, lamented the situation.
Carbone’s “words ring hollow in the wake of more than 100 pages of emails and internal records 13 investigates obtained,” Spears said.
Locals have complained about Platunov’s breeding operation at least since 2007.
Some of his employees reported to Nye County animal control in 2017, Spears summarized, that “he puts puppies in with adult dogs and allows the adults to attack the puppies.”
But “officers were not able to substantiate that,” Spears said. “In June 2018,” Spears continued, “the Nye County Planning Department requested that the district attorney prosecute Platunov for his ongoing non-compliance in having too many dogs.”
A civil case was filed, Spears reported, “but criminal charges were not pursued.”
“I don’t run the courts”
Complained Carbone, “It would have been nice if everything would have been handled differently from a court standpoint, but I don’t run the courts.”
Responded Spears, “A July 2020 email suggests Carbone pushed back against an effort to seize the dogs.”
Emailed animal control Lieutenant Thomas Klenczar to Sheriff Sharon Wehrly, “I spoke with Frank Carbone about the dogs and was advised we don’t have a place to house that many dogs or enough food to feed them if we were to take them.”
“We’re talking about property,” Carbone said. “The animals are his property. And he has a constitutional right to his property. And that’s the reason why you go through the process.”
“Russian soldier in Afghanistan”
Earlier, Carbone told Spears, apparently reciting a story from Platinov, since there seems to be no other accessible evidence for it, that Platunov “was actually a Russian soldier in Afghanistan. And his dogs were the sniffers for landmines. And he actually was in a situation where he hit a landmine, and the dogs got in front of that landmine, took most of the hit. He got blown up pretty good. But this is the reason why he is so attached to these dogs. They saved his life. Now, that doesn’t mean that he should have 300 of them, but this is his passion to those animals.”
Said Spears, “County records show Platunov’s Est-Alfa kennel was named after the dog who saved his life in Afghanistan,” but “Est-Alfa” in Russian would be a nonsensical phrase.
“Guard & patrol dogs”
Healthy male Ovarchkas weigh up to 170 pounds, according to the American Kennel club. Females run smaller.
Platunov alleged to Nye County that “his trained guard and patrol dogs sell for between $10-15,000 each,” Spears reported, though Platunov advertised puppies on the Est-Alfa website for between $2,000 and $3,500.
“He also said he rented the dogs out for up to $150 per day, or up to $55,000 for an annual lease on a single dog,” Spears added.
Claimed Carbone, “He [Platunov] was actually working with Homeland Security and another organization back east on a place to take his dogs, to start training them for Homeland Security, which would have been pretty close to 70, 80 dogs. That’s what I remember the conversation was. But as time went on, they were digging for funds and then COVID hit and that just dropped everything.”
“Free-roam guard dogs”
Some support for this contention came on March 29, 2019 from Washington Examiner homeland security reporter Anna Giaritelli, who mentioned that “Free-roam guard dogs from Est Alfa K-9 Security Service LLC. were on site for the first time, caged” at a Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas, “for border officials to consider as a new way of ‘manning’ the boundary.
Est Alfa regional manager John Post, Giaritelli reported, “said 7,000 Caucasian Ovcharka dogs, also referred to as the Caucasian shepherd breed, were used on the east side of the Berlin Wall during the Cold War because of their innate tendency to guard and defend territory.
“The dogs would perform best if stationed between two barriers, like the Border Patrol has in San Diego, California,: Giaritelli said. “There, they could run up and down the fenced area. They would live on the border 24/7.”
More than 10 years of zoning violations
Platanov by 2019 had already been in alleged violation of zoning for almost a decade.
“In 2010, Vasili Platunov received a permit to have 30 dogs to train and sell on his property in Pahrump,” recounted Drew Andre of Fox 5 in Las Vegas on August 30, 2022.
“Since at least 2015,” Andre reported, “county records show neighbors have been ringing the bell about noise and too many dogs on the limited area of land.
“In 2015, Platunov filed an application to increase the number of Russian Caucasian shepherds on the property in Pahrump from 30 to 130,” but neighbors charged that Platunov already had far more than the 30 dogs he was allowed to keep.
“The county denied Platunov’s application,” Andre continued, “based upon his failure to comply with the original conditions of approval. In 2016, Nye county commissioners gave him six months to get the number of dogs back down to 30.
Wanted two years to move dogs
“Platunov went on to appeal the ruling and asked for two years to move the animals. He later filed a lawsuit” against Nye County. In 2018, commissioners voted to take legal action since the breeder was not complying.
“Eventually, Platunov purchased more land in Amargosa Valley,” Andre said.
But that scarcely resolved the issues.
Picked up Spears, “Nye County calls-for-service records show that Animal Control has been called out to Platunov’s properties at least a dozen times since 2019, chiefly in response to noise complaints.
“Platunov blames neighbors for setting off the dogs by driving ATVs or walking near his property,” Spears summarized.
Animal control called in February
“On February 7, 2022, Animal Control was called over concerns that dogs appeared sick, and feces were everywhere,” Spears recounted. “Officers confirmed several dogs were very underweight and told Platunov to separate them so they could get enough to eat.
“Records show he was a no-show for the scheduled follow up, and later refused to meet officers. Records also show he got angry when Animal Control said they needed to check conditions on his property, and he hung up on them when they called.”
Nevada Voters for Animals president Gina Greisen shared with Spears a video she said she took on April 17, 2022, showing “a dog missing his right back leg, the result of a fight with another dog,” Spears narrated. “In another video, Greisen questioned the dogs’ clipped ears.”
Clipped ears himself
Platinov admitted to clipping the dogs’ ears himself.
The August 22, 2022 impoundments came ten months after Nye County animal control first impounded some of Platunov’s dogs in November 2021––just as Platunov obtained federal nonprofit status as the Caucasian Ovarchka Club USA.
Animal control “found the dogs were too thin and needed veterinary care,” Spears reported, but “Lieutenant Klenczar overruled his own officers, saying the dogs ‘Did not need to be seen by a veterinarian,’ and authorized their release back to Platunov.”
“Recommended 235 counts”
Three months later, after the visit to Platunov of February 7, 2022, Nye County Animal Control “recommended approximately 235 counts of torture or cruelty after responding to a report of animal abuse at Platunov’s home,” Spears reported.
Explained animal control officer Susan Ryhal, “The living area where the dogs are confined has been “grossly neglected, forcing the dogs to sleep, eat and live in their own waste.”
“Later that same month,” Spears resumed, “Animal Control was called by a veterinarian due to a case of medical neglect with one of Platunov’s dogs that was so severe the dog had to be euthanized. Still, no charges, no seizure of the animals.”
Another three months elapsed
Another three months elapsed, during which time the American SPCA “reached out to help rescue, care for and even feed the dogs if a criminal case was started,” but was refused, according to Spears.
Eventually Platunov surrendered 30 dogs, who were transferred to the nearby Desert Haven Animal Society.
Desert Haven executive director Beth Kakavulias, a former Nye County Animal Control officer, and a 10-year veterinary technician, told Spears that most of the dogs “were easily anywhere between 50 to 70 pounds underweight,” with “lacerations on their necks from dogfights, lacerations on their lips,” and one had “a previously broken leg that was probably re-fractured and re-healing,” while “One of the females had a really big open gaping wound on the back of her neck.”
Dogs “really fattened up”
But Platunov was still not criminally charged.
“In May,” said Spears, “with the previous cruelty charges Animal Control recommended sitting on the district attorney’s desk, Lieutenant Klenczar emailed Sheriff Wehrly, district attorney Chris Arabia, and other county officials,” advising then that the dogs had “really fattened up” while in custody, concluding that, “It’s going to be real hard to go forward with a cruelty case.”
Platunov and Higgins were finally arrested nearly four months later.
“We’re expecting more records to be released next week and will continue updating this story,” Spears concluded.