LARGO — After more than a year of work and research, city leaders decided they won’t follow the same path as Hillsborough and Pasco counties, which recently banned the retail sale of dogs and cats.
Instead, city commissioners voted 6-1 on Dec. 15 to add an extra layer of transparency that the two pet stores operating within the city limits must follow.
When discussing regulations on pet stores last year, the city attorney advised commissioners that, because of county, state and federal preemptions, they had three options. They could ban the sales altogether, add some new rules to help inform consumers, or do nothing.
Commissioners opted to work with the two Ulmerton Road stores — All About Puppies and Sunshine Puppies — in a good-faith effort to keep their businesses alive while keeping animals healthy. 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.
“We’re doing everything we can to make sure the dogs and cats they (consumers) do buy are healthy, appropriate and going to be good pets for them for a long time,” Code Enforcement Manager Tracey Schofield told Tampa Bay Newspapers on Dec. 18. “I think that’s a good first step with this ordinance.”
At issue is 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.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the primary regulatory authority for breeders that transport animals over state lines. The state of Florida has a pet “lemon law” and minimal requirements breeders must meet. Pinellas County, however, has definitions and regulations on kennels, hobby breeders and pet dealers. Local ordinances can’t conflict with county ordinances, so city staff had Pinellas County Attorney's Office review the proposed ordinance.
The ordinance, which will have a second and final hearing Jan. 19 before it’s approved, requires stores to give consumers more information about where the animals are coming from.
Therefore, owners need the following information on site for purchasers:
• The name of the USDA facility where the dog/cat was bred
• License number of the USDA facility
• City and state of breeding origin
The information should be posted near each animal’s cage, kennel or enclosure within clear view and a poster should be placed in the store stating that information is available for review.
A customer may also request the contact information for the breeder.
In addition, the ordinance requires that pet store owners only purchase dogs or cats from breeders approved and licensed by the USDA and have an active state license in good standing.
Owners also must have USDA inspection reports for the breeders readily available for review.
“So what we’re looking for is to try to make sure that documentation is presently there and available to the customers and to the city to make sure that everybody is following their requirements,” Schofield told commissioners Dec. 15. “Because there could be times when they bring in an animal that didn’t go through those (regulatory agencies) and these type of safeguards hopefully would catch that.”
Alexandria Julian, co-owner of All About Puppies, a family-run store that has been in Largo since 1995, said her store already employs best practices so the new rules shouldn’t be an issue.
“We are certain that we can provide the necessary transparency and sourcing requirements that this ordinance stipulates. We believe it is very fairly written,” Julian said.
The family also owns two stores in Hillsborough County that now must transition to an adoption-based model where any animals sold must be obtained from rescue organizations or shelters.
The lone commissioner to vote no, Michael Smith, agrees with that approach.
“I’m voting no only because I don’t believe in shopping. I believe in adoption,” he said. “I’m for this and I understand it, but that’s where I stand.”