CLEARWATER – Pinellas County currently has six retail stores that can sell cats and dogs, and they can all stay in business for now; however, due to the measures taken on June 7, it is unlikely that there will be more.
After listening to approximately two hours of public testimony followed by a lengthy discussion that began during an agenda briefing during a June 2 business session, six of Pinellas County’s seven commissioners finally said yes to an ordinance that prohibits the opening of new pet stores throughout the county. and prevents the expansion of existing stores. The ordinance also includes a long list of comprehensive new regulations that will be imposed on existing pet-selling establishments.
Commissioner Pat Gerard voted no. She preferred a complete, non-grandfathered ban on existing authorized stores.
Before the vote, two amendments were added. The first defined conditions under which an existing business would be allowed to move to a new location. These conditions include reducing the size of buildings and retail spaces, as well as reducing the number of kennels allowed. Stores would also be required to pay a fee and pass an inspection.
The second amendment specified that hobby breeders were different from commercial breeders and did not have to meet the same requirements.
The possibility of changing the county’s retail pet store regulations began when commissioners approved a one-year moratorium on Dec. 7, 2021 that prohibited the expansion of commercial locations for the retail sale of cats and dogs. The moratorium also prohibited new permits for additional retail stores and revisions to existing permits. All six stores were allowed to continue normal operations.
Animal activists from across Tampa Bay began attending commission meetings in late October 2021, calling on Pinellas to ban the sale of cats, dogs and rabbits. Activists claimed the retail sale of cats and dogs contributed to the inhumane treatment of animals. They wanted Pinellas to close its retail pet stores as many surrounding counties had done, including Hillsborough, Pasco, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Currently, the cities of St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor and Dunedin ban retail pet stores, as do Hillsborough, Pasco and Manatee counties. Largo bans new pet stores.
Commissioners turned to staff for information to make a decision on a ban and approved the moratorium to allow time to consider animal rights activists’ accusations against commercial breeders and retail pet stores in the count.
More than 30 activists from Pinellas and other localities in the state attended the June 7 meeting. They continue to accuse local pet stores of supporting puppy mills and the inhumane treatment of animals. They claim the only way to shut down puppy mills is to shut down pet stores.
The Humane Society of the United States defines puppy mills as inhumane, high-volume dog-breeding facilities that produce puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the puppies and their mothers. Puppy mill dogs are often sick and unsocialized.
However, local pet store owners insist that they only buy animals from legitimate breeders. They say banning pet retail would only allow puppy mills to thrive and send people online to buy pets where there are no regulations.
Dan Cohn, owner of Sunshine Puppies with locations in Clearwater and Largo, told commissioners that 85-90% of puppies sold at his stores are registered with the American Kennel Club, which he says is the most popular kennel club. respected in the world. He said most AKC dogs have champions in their lines.
“There are no champions in puppy mills,” he said.
He said that if the closing of pet stores leads to the closing of puppy mills, he would gladly close his stores.
Cohn also said he had no problem adhering to the comprehensive 16 pages of new regulations, which include minimum operational standards. The regulations include requirements for animal care and housing. Dogs and cats must be examined and tested by a veterinarian to ensure that they are in good health and the animals must receive the required vaccinations. Stores must keep written records of dog and cat sales and provide warranties to their new owners. There are rules about where dogs and cats for resale can be purchased and more.
Activists also say local pet stores are not following county regulations and failing to treat their animals humanely. But these claims have not been verified by Animal Services. According to manager Doug Brightwell, although his department receives about three or four complaints a month about pet stores, staff have never written a citation. Nor can he verify claims by activists that local stores are selling dogs from puppy mills. He confirmed that many animals came from out of state.
Brightwell presented research findings on current federal animal care and welfare regulations published in 2010 and a follow-up report in 2021 to the dog breeding industry as required by law on animal welfare. The result is that the health and welfare of dogs produced by the dog breeding industry and shipped to local pet stores are ignored.
Animal Services’ research formed part of the commission’s decision to prohibit the opening of new stores because, according to the order, “it is in the best interest of the county and the life, health, safety and welfare of residents and animals”. .”
The commissioners decided not to ban outright due to concerns that banning existing businesses could send people online buying pets from unregulated businesses. There was also the threat of legal action, as permitted by a new state law, from stores if their revenue dropped 15% or more because they had to stop selling cats and dogs to the by local order.
Despite requests to add rabbits to the ban, commissioners failed to act primarily because Animal Services has no information on the sale of rabbits in the county, which county attorney Jewel White said. , was necessary. Brightwell said there are 11 or more locations in Pinellas where rabbits can be purchased.
Animal advocates have given many examples of cruelty involving people buying rabbits as pets.
Commissioner Karen Seel expressed her disappointment. She had called for rabbits to be included in any ordinance when the public demanded it last fall. Rabbits could not be added to the June 7 order because it had not been announced.
The county had to act on a local ordinance before Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill passed by the Legislature that would ban the sale of cats and dogs in retail establishments statewide. As of June 7, this bill had not been sent to the governor.
Suzette Porter is the Pinellas County Editor of TBN. She can be contacted at [email protected]