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New county moratorium will limit retail sales of dogs and cats

Veronica Brezina

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Image of a dog. Pinellas County documents.

Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to place a year-long moratorium on the expansion of retail sales of dogs and cats. 

“The one-year time period for the moratorium is needed to prevent the increase of potentially unhealthy or inhumanely bred animals while the board considers policy options related to pet sales within the county,” according to the moratorium’s language. “Some retail pet sales establishments purchase animals from commercial breeders that operate unsanitary and inhumane breeding facilities.” 

The moratorium was placed to allow county commissioners to consider adopting a permanent moratorium. 

While the moratorium prevents the opening of additional pet stores intending to sell dogs and cats within the county, existing pet stores in Pinellas can continue selling the animals. 

The county’s consideration of eventually adopting a permanent moratorium follows Hillsborough, Pasco, Sarasota and Manatee counties, which have all placed bans on the retail sale of dogs and cats. 

“These puppies come from concentration camps known as commercial dog farming … ending the retail sale of puppies in surrounding counties has left Pinellas County vulnerable to becoming the puppy mill capital of Southwest Florida,” Sarasota resident Cynthia Con said during the meeting. 

During the moratorium period, the county will also not approve any revisions to existing permits that would change or increase the permitted locations for pet sales.

“I just want to really plea to the entire commission that this is a slippery slope,” said Dan Cohn, owner of the Sunshine Puppies retail store. 

“What you’re doing is regulating a legal activity to then decide whether or not we want it to happen,” Cohn said, pointing out how he has a store in Clearwater and one in Largo but does not plan on expanding. 

He also noted how he uses a private vet. 

Other public speakers strongly urged the commissioners to place the temporary moratorium. 

“I think we need to phase out the retail sales because it supports puppy mills, and contributes to our pet overpopulation,” said Clearwater resident Melissa Zepeda.

Another speaker, Hillary Hart, a veterinarian who practices in St. Petersburg, said two months ago, a client purchased a puppy from a pet store in Pinellas County and was not given its medical history. 

Hart said the client didn’t receive the vaccination records nor a health certificate from the retailer, which is required by law. Hart then explained the long daunting process of tracking down its records and believes this cannot be an isolated case. 

The county, should it wish to, could shortened the temporary moratorium prior to the end of the one-year period. 

The commissioners may consider adding language to include the sale of rabbits in a permanent moratorium. 

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