LARGO — There won’t be any new pet stores in the city of Largo, and the two currently operating have some new rules to follow.
On Sept. 7, the City Commission voted 6-1 on final reading to adopt a long-discussed ordinance that enacts new regulations for the commercial sale of dogs and cats within the city limits. It also prohibits the establishment of stores at new locations in the city.
Commissioner Michael Smith cast the dissenting vote against the ordinance that has been in the works for two years.
“I’m against this ordinance completely,” said Smith, who advocates for an adoption-based model, which would follow the path of municipalities like Dunedin and St. Petersburg, and Hillsborough and Pasco counties, which have banned the commercial sale of pets.
The move aims to crack down on stores that sell dogs that come from so-called “puppy mills,” which the Humane Society of the United States defines as inhumane, high-volume dog-breeding facilities that churn out puppies for profit, ignoring the needs of the pups and their mothers. Dogs from puppy mills are often sick and unsocialized.
However, unlike Dunedin and St. Petersburg, Largo has two stores operating within its limits — All About Puppies and Sunshine Puppies, both on Ulmerton Road. There are three other stores along Ulmerton Road, including the largest, Petland across the street from the Largo Mall, but they are not within city limits and fall under the jurisdiction of Pinellas County.
“I can assure that shutting down two stores in the city of Largo … is (not) going to make any type of a difference in the overall scheme of what the puppy mill issue is,” said Vice Mayor Jamie Robinson, who said he didn’t want the employees to lose their jobs.
The Largo pet store owners are adamant they don’t purchase or sell animals from puppy mills, and said they are pleased with the new ordinance, which requires the stores provide detailed information about the source of the dogs they are selling, including the name and license numbers of the United States Department of Agriculture breeding facility where the animal was bred, and the city where the animal came from.
The information must be posted on or close to each animal's enclosure.
“We are very proud about how the place our small family business calls home has handled this ordinance,” said Alexandria Julien of All About Puppies. “It’s well researched, thought out and debated.”
She added the store has attained all the documents that are required and are in compliance.
Animal advocates and members of the Humane Society had previously come out in force against the ordinance, claiming that, while the intent was good, it did little to deter puppy mills.
Since that time, Mayor Woody Brown said he has had workshops with pet store owners, SPCA representatives, and rescue groups.
“By and large, everybody was in agreement that we need to advocate for the players in this arena that are doing things right,” he said. “Thankfully, the two stores that we’re dealing with in our city limits seem to be doing things right.”
The ordinance also follows federal law that pet store owners shall only purchase dogs from breeders who are approved and licensed by the USDA, have not received any direct or indirect violations from the USDA in the past two years, and have an active state license in good standing.
The rules also require the stores have a valid health certificate for the animals from a Florida licensed veterinarian.
“This ordinance goes a long way to do everything we can as a city to assure that the stores that are operating in our city … continue to get their puppies from sources that are well run, that the dogs are treated well,” Brown said.