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Pinellas County bans new pet store openings

Veronica Brezina



Image: Rivera Hermes/Unsplash.

New pet retail stores – those that sell dogs and/or cats – will not be welcomed in Pinellas County, thanks to a new ban. 

Pinellas County commissioners passed an ordinance on Tuesday to ban the opening of new retail pet stores that sell the animals. The ordinance also restricts the expansion or relocation of existing stores. Meanwhile, the existing six retail stores within the county can continue to operate following additional regulations. 

“We need to be responsible for [the sake of] residents and at the same time be responsible to business owners doing things the right way,” Commissioner Dave Eggers said. 

The county attorneys also recommended a clarification to make it abundantly clear the ordinance does not extend to hobby breeders. 

The vote on the ban comes after Pinellas County commissioners placed a year-long moratorium on the expansion of retail sales of dogs and cats in late December.

The moratorium was placed to allow county commissioners to consider adopting a permanent moratorium. Pinellas County Animal Services was asked to research the pet breeding and sales industry to provide information. PCAS has since researched the pet breeding industry, federal regulations, state regulations, transportation regulations, local stores and consumer protection options. 

For over an hour, the commissioners heard from members of the public who were both in opposition to and in support of the ban. The verbal arguments were made in addition to the commissioners receiving over 100 emails from concerned citizens and groups. 

The public speakers encouraging the ban alleged that many pet stores have a lack of vet care and animals are often living in unclean cages, and irresponsible breeders breed female dogs during every heat.

Roughly 2,500 individuals have signed a petition to enforce a full ban without grandfathering in the existing stores. 

However, local pet store owners spoke about how they abide by regulations. 

“We deal with some of the best breeders out there … because we have vetted them,” said Dan Cohn, owner of the Sunshine Puppies retail store in Clearwater. “The goal is to shut down puppy mills. They aren’t shutting down, they are actually flourishing.” 

He explained about 85-90% of puppies sold in retail shops such as All About Puppies are AKC (American Kennel Club) registered, which is a high designation certifying a dog’s lineage. 

“At the end of the day, if shutting down every pet shop would shut down every puppy mill, then I’d be for shutting down every pet shop, no problem – but that’s not happening,” Cohn said, stating how he isn’t against additional oversight, but assured the commissioners that people will seek puppies that are unregistered from unregulated breeders. 

“One of my highest recommendations would be to not grandfather us in and to limit the number of pet sale licenses in the county period,” he said. 

As part of the passed ordinance, the additional regulations for the existing pet stores will require business owners to have better documentation, including the information on the breeder(s) sourced and vaccination records. 

Others also submitted emails on how a ban hurts retailers while not combatting the larger puppy mill issue at hand and loopholes in the system.  

“With regard to the proposed Pinellas County pet store ordinance update, I am writing today to urge you not to adopt any provision which devalues a legally operating Pinellas County business,” Patti Strand, President of the National Animal Interest Alliance, wrote in an email to commissioners. “Don’t prejudge and punish responsible businesses: The ordinance update draft includes options that would devalue all businesses within a specific commercial sector because some individuals within that sector may be substandard operators. There are bad operators in every business sector. Basic fairness dictates that we don’t prejudge and punish innocent individuals for the crimes or shortcomings of others who belong to a similar grouping.” 

Another organization, the Pet Advisory Network, also wrote a letter in opposition to the ban. 

“Such a ban, which prevents stores from selling dogs or cats or sometimes mandates that pet stores must source dogs and cats from rescue organizations, creates an infeasible [sic] business model that has proven to close pet stores,” wrote J. Wesley Fisher with the Pet Advisory Network’s government affairs. 

“While well-intentioned, retail pet sale bans will not stop bad breeders who are unregulated, unlicensed and are not held accountable to any animal care standards. What bans will do is harm highly regulated pet stores and eliminate a transparent and trusted source of pets that provides purchasers with legal protections, and drive prospective pet owners to unregulated, unlicensed, and potentially unscrupulous pet sellers,” Fisher concluded, echoing similar statements. 

The ban is expected to be effective within 30 days, pending the approval of the state. 

Pinellas County Animal Services Director Doug Brightwell reminded the commissioners that the county cannot regulate sales that occur online and at rescue facilities. 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Bill Lemieux

    June 8, 2022at3:37 pm

    How about banning retail outlets that sell assault weapons

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