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City commissioners have one more vote before passing an ordinance that would enhance regulations for the city’s two pet stores, Sunshine Puppies and All About Puppies, which are both on Ulmerton Road.

LARGO — After nearly two years of ongoing discussion, city commissioners are close to adopting an ordinance that would further regulate the commercial sale of dogs and cats within the city limits and prohibit new pet stores from being established.

Commissioners voted 4-2 on Aug. 3 to give preliminary approval to a new set of the rules that the city’s two Ulmerton Road pet stores — All About Puppies and Sunshine Puppies — will have to abide by.

At issue are 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 Largo pet store owners are adamant they don’t purchase or sell animals from puppy mills. 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.

The USDA 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 also has definitions and regulations on kennels, hobby breeders and pet dealers. Local ordinances can’t conflict with county, state or federal ones, so the city’s options were limited.

The city’s new rules require that 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.

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.

Finally, the ordinance includes an option to grandfather the existing pet stores and ban future stores from being established.

Grandfathering

Alexandria Julien of All About Puppies applauded the city for its efforts instead of instituting an outright ban, which was previously called for by several representatives of the Humane Society and carried out by municipalities like Dunedin and Hillsborough County.

“For the real meat of the ordinance, we are 100 percent certain that we can abide by the regulations that are outlined,” she said.

However, she did take exception to a portion of the grandfathering section, which could be interpreted in a way that the store could not be sold to another pet store.

“As it reads, our understanding is that our store would now be worth zero dollars, as the option to sell our business in the future would result in the ban of our business,” she said, adding that the ordinance would also be problematic because it could prohibit them from moving to a new location.

Vice Mayor Jamie Robinson and Commissioner Eric Gerard were sympathetic to Julien’s concerns and supported amending the ordinance to clarify that they could sell their business to another pet store.

“I would hate to see us pass an ordinance that would destroy the future value of this ongoing business,” Gerard said.

Commissioners voted 4-2 to amend the ordinance, with Michael Smith and Samantha Fenger objecting. Mayor Woody Brown was absent.

Smith has consistently objected to the commercial sale of dogs and cats, but Fenger said the change went against the commission’s intent and defeats the entire purpose of grandfathering.

“I think our intent from the very beginning has been no more,” Fenger said.

Despite her objections, commissioners voted 4-2 along the same lines to adopt the ordinance on first reading.

A second and final public hearing will be held Sept. 7. In the meantime, City Attorney Alan Zimmet will clarify the language so that it allows the sale of the business to a person or entity that wishes to continue to operate it as a pet store.

In other news

Commissioners were split on the final reading of an ordinance that would ban teenagers from designated playgrounds.

The new regulation states no one older than 12 is allowed in designated child play areas unless he or she is a parent, guardian, or temporary custodian caring for a child.

City staff and police officials said the measure would provide some needed “enforcement teeth” to police officers who currently can’t force any unruly teens to leave — mainly at playgrounds at Largo Central Park and the Highland Recreation Complex.

The ordinance narrowly passed on first reading by a 4-3 vote, with Commissioners Eric Gerard and Jamie Robinson strongly opposed, claiming it was “overkill” and that it unfairly targets teens.

With Mayor Woody Brown absent from the Aug. 3 meeting, the commission ended up with a 3-3 vote. Gerard also proposed that the commission hold off on passing the new rules and allow city staff to come up with ideas for alternative recreation options for teens at the park. A vote on that motion also failed 3-3, meaning the final reading of the ordinance will be brought to the commission’s next regular meeting Aug. 17.

Photo by CHRIS GEORGE

City commissioners have one more vote before passing an ordinance that would enhance regulations for the city’s two pet stores, Sunshine Puppies and All About Puppies, which are both on Ulmerton Road.