Pinellas County Bans New Stores Selling Dogs and Cats

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The Pinellas County Commission voted on Tuesday to ban all new stores selling dogs and cats, following surrounding local governments that recently took action to address animal welfare.

But the commission has not granted requests from welfare advocates to close the six stores currently selling puppies in the county. Instead, the ordinance will impose tougher regulations on them, such as requiring the publication of medical histories and information about the origin of each animal.

The order comes six months after the commission placed a moratorium on new stores so Pinellas County Animal Services can research the industry. On Tuesday, Director Doug Brightwell said it was clear the US Department of Agriculture was not monitoring and regulating the welfare of animals raised in out-of-state operations and transported to stores in Florida. .

“It’s a very complex industry that needs answers from different levels of government,” Commissioner Dave Eggers said. “There’s not much we can do, and I think it’s about addressing the concerns of our residents, but at the same time responding to business owners who are doing things the right way.”

The ordinance passed 6-1 with Commissioner Pat Gerard voting no. Gerard said she disagreed with grandfathering in the existing six stores and the provision allowing them to relocate and sell their businesses as long as they don’t expand.

The order will only apply to stores and excludes hobby breeders: home breeders who sell fewer than two litters or 20 animals per year, whichever is greater.

Hillsborough County voted in 2020 to ban pet retail sales, applying the rule to the three existing stores at the time. Manatee County followed suit, applying the ban to three stores. When Pasco County banned pet retail in 2020, it grandfathered in an existing store.

But Pinellas commissioners were reluctant to close existing stores in the county because online sales are unregulated. Commissioner Kathleen Peters noted reports that some rescues across the United States also bought puppy mills to resell and wanted to know if this was happening in Pinellas.

Brightwell said it confirmed that of the 3,400 puppies sold at the six Pinellas stores since January 2021, all came from out-of-state breeders or brokers. He could not confirm whether they were from puppy mills, as he declined to elaborate on the definition of what are anecdotally described as abusive warehouses that mass-produce dogs.

But Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay, noted that abuses in large-scale breeding operations are well documented and that retail stores help support this industry.

“In fact, these companies are helping to create the demand for mass-produced puppies by misrepresenting what happened to these animals, their parents, and their siblings before they even got to the store,” Boden said. .

The issue generated heated and passionate debate on Tuesday, with more than two hours of comments from opponents and supporters of the ban, who traded accusations about the farming and rescue industries.

Representatives from Sunshine Puppies and All About Puppies warned that the retail store ban would boost black market sales. They also said they visited the sites of all their suppliers to ensure standards of well-being.

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“If closing all pet stores closed all puppy mills, then I would be all for closing all pet stores, but that’s not happening,” Sunshine Puppies owner Dan Cohn said with comments. locations in Clearwater and Largo.

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