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Public backlash derails SPCA partnership with puppy sellers

Mark Parker

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From left: Chris Fleming, CEO of Pinnacle Pet; Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay; and Dan Cohn, CEO of Sunshine Puppies. The three partnered to launch a unique, since-canceled pilot program. Photo provided.

In October 2023, SPCA Tampa Bay announced a once-unthinkable partnership with puppy brokers and retailers designed to raise industry standards and rehome retired breeding dogs from responsible breeders.

A groundswell of public backlash ensued, and the groundbreaking For All Dogs pilot program has ended. Pinellas County Commissioners expressed their dismay and discussed implementing some of the initiative’s successful components at Tuesday’s meeting.

Commission Chair Kathleen Peters broached the subject and noted the partnership exponentially increased puppy store regulations and oversight. However, three months of spoken and written vitriol ensued.

“It was an alliance I never saw happening, and I was so impressed that it happened,” Peters said. “And I’m so incredibly disappointed that it has now been destroyed.”

In April 2022, commissioners voted to allow the county’s six puppy retailers to remain in business. Martha Boden, CEO of the local SPCA, opposed the measure.

Boden told the Catalyst in October that she once saw breeders and brokers as the enemy. That changed when she met the owners of Missouri-based Pinnacle Pet and local retailer Sunshine Puppies.

Boden realized that many industry stakeholders worked tirelessly to support compassionate and humane breeding practices. She offered to help rehome Pinnacle Pet’s aging dogs, and the nonprofit For All Dogs pilot program was born.

That led to an introduction with Dan Cohn, CEO of Sunshine Puppies. He operates two of the county’s six approved puppy stores.

The SPCA’s Veterinary Center began providing medical care for puppies throughout their stay at Sunshine Puppies. The three partners stressed that learning from one another rather than fighting was a critical aspect of the unique program.

Boden credited Cohn for his transparency. “And that, I think, is really what animal advocates and animal welfare activists have hoped for,” Boden said at the time.

“I thought that would be a model across the nation,” Peters said Tuesday. “And then for it to end because of the pressure to have her fired because of that partnership … what a horrible shame.”

A Pinellas County resident poses with a retired breeding dog she adopted from the SPCA. Photo provided.

She said For All Dogs implemented regulations that went well beyond mandated requirements. Peters also noted the initiative garnered national, negative attention.

Instead of appreciating an attempt to create a novel solution, opponents “went out for blood and just wanted somebody’s job,” Peters said. She also lamented their tactics, which included repeated references to the number of dogs SPCA has euthanized.

However, Peters said the discourse inevitably transitioned to eliminating all retail sales. She and Cohn believe that would foster black market puppy mills.

Commissioner Brian Scott agreed. “I even talked to my vet about it and asked his opinion,” he said.

“He said the best thing you can do is know who the players are and regulate,” Scott added. “Drop into businesses.”

While county ordinance prohibits additional puppy stores from opening, Peters and Commissioner Janet Long agreed that they could amend the statute and incorporate the canceled partnership’s standards. Peters also noted that some counties have rescinded previously approved bans.

Commissioner Dave Eggers said he opposed allowing new retailers but supported implementing the “hijacked” initiative’s model. “I don’t know how we’ll find a partnership like they had because I don’t know if anyone’s going to put their job on the chopping block,” Peters said.

She suggested bringing Cohn and Boden into commission chambers for a workshop. “Well, Martha (Boden) probably won’t because they are still after her job,” Peters added.

Doug Brightwell, director of animal services, said county officials and pet store owners have “learned a lot” in the two years since commissioners approved the last ordinance. He said a new Purdue University study highlighted new standards that are more beneficial than outright bans.

Peters said she would ask Boden to discuss the pilot program’s strengths and weaknesses. Peters also suggested discussing the matter with Cohn, who welcomes more stringent regulations.

County Administrator Barry Burton said he would instruct Brightwell to prepare a report for the workshop discussion.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mary Kelly

    January 18, 2024at3:57 pm

    Lets be very clear, nobody objected to commercial breeders or transporters deciding to raise industry standards. Nor does anyone object to the Commissioners deciding to implement better regulations for puppy stores or those seeking to import commercially bred dogs (although most would rather see the sale of commercially bred dogs in puppy stores banned altogether). The conditions at many commercial breeders and at many puppy stores are lamentable and the rescue community applauds any attempts to regulate (or better yet eliminate) these sales.

    What virtually everyone in the rescue community- and ethical breeders- DID object to was a plan designed to allow out of state commercial breeders to offload dogs to Tampa Bay SPCA if they could no longer be bred for profit or if they were too “imperfect” to sell for top dollar. What everyone actually objected to was SPCA Tampa taking these no longer profitable dogs off the hands of commercial breeders so that the poorly regulated breeders could breed more. Everyone objected to SPCA Tampa Bay using donations that were intended for stray, homeless and abandoned animals to provide these commercially bred dogs with medical care that the breeders chose not to provide. People objected to SPCA Tampa Bay’s plan to house the dogs at the SPCA facilities, sell them for greatly enhanced “adoption fees”, and to then refer potential adopters to puppy stores to purchase rather than rescue dogs.

    Not only would this plan have allowed out of state breeders to increase their profits by dumping dogs once they were no longer profitable, it would have done at the expense of abandoned and homeless Florida dogs. After all, SPCA Tampa Bay was planning to use the Tampa Bay kennels and resources for these commercially bred dogs, instead of using those resources to saving homeless and abandoned dogs in the community.

    Virtually every animal welfare professional, rescue worker, and volunteer pointed out that helping commercial breeders and puppy stores at the expense of homeless animals was a horrific idea. Ethical breeders also condemned this plan, explaining on SPCA Tamp Bay’s posts (until SPCA Tampa Bay removed the ability to comment or blocked them) that ethical breeders find homes for their dogs and take them back if they don’t work out. Ethical breeders don’t send dogs across the country them to animal shelters or sell them in what the Commissioner’s seem to concede are poorly regulated stores.

    The Commissioners should have a workshop. They should invite the rescue community, including those who have observed first hand the kind of abuses that occur at many commercial breeders.

  2. Avatar

    Sandy Winter

    January 18, 2024at10:41 am

    As others have already stated, if you ever worked or volunteered at a rescue, or looked at the conditions in smaller rural shelters who have no choice but to euthinize, you would be horried at even thinking about a “possible” SPCA solution to puppy mills. There is one solution: shut them down everywhere and permanently – do not allow stores to ever sell puppy mill puppies. For those of you who have never seen the vet series/multiple episodes – Dr Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet in which he talks about the cesspool that are puppy mills it is eye opening and his disgust and distain are evident – he has a huge practice in Colorado and sees and helps daily pro bono the pitiful breeding dogs and the unwanted excess puppies resulting from puppy mills. I seriously cannot understand anyone trying to justify any type of partnership with puppy mills.

  3. Avatar

    Susan Sudra

    January 17, 2024at11:36 pm

    #1 PUPPY MILL DOGS ARE NOT …”RETIRED”😡

    🛑PLEASE JUST STOP referring to the horrendous,cruelty,neglect and abuse they are living every single day as a dogs “job” they can “retire” from its a slap in the face of all the animal advocates and organizations who fight endlessly to SAVE THEM(not “retire”) from this tortured life….so just STOP!!!! 🛑🛑🛑

    This is their lives the males are bred until too old and sick and then discarded,killed,etc and replaced with another male while the poor female dogs are being repeatedly and endlessly bred think about this…

    PINELLAS COUNTY COMMISSIONERS/ANY OTHERS WHO NEED TO KNOW

    these poor female dogs are even bred without being in heat which is not only extremely unhealthy for the mother and puppies amounts to the breeders intentionally initiating canine rape to produce more litters to make money for themselves and those that support and enable the puppy mill industry..
    To those reading this and those named in this article…Is this really something you ALL want on public record that you chose to support??

    Commissioner Chair Kathleen Peters …I dont believe any of the “supposed” increased puppy store regulations and oversight were worth the hundreds of animals that lost their lives and are continuing to lose their lives daily at the SPCA TAMPA BAY…..but we will ALL note (on public record) your incredible disappointment the partnership to help out of state puppy mill dogs through the For all dogs program was destroyed but nothing about the collateral damage and death of the Pinellas County residents pets/shelter animals…

    The animal advocates of the world had absolutely no use for “somebody’s job” or blood….

    The animal advocates “job” is to be the voice for the voiceless and to stop as much unnecessary/unneeded blood shed/deaths/cruelty as possible…..

    A statement not one person on the SPCA TAMPA BAY LARGO BOARD can say they are accomplishing in ANY way…. its public record that they are no longer a shelter and do not deserve to be utilized in animal welfare….When you kill 50% of the animals that come through your door every single year for over 10yrs…you are NOT a shelter…and you need to be STOPPED IMMEDIATELY…

    There is not 1 iota of the For All Dogs Program that needs to be brought back. IF you truly want to know whats needed…stop asking the wrong people ( no offense to Commissioner Brian Scott vet whoever they are but someone more knowledgeable about the present animal rescue world and requirements is better for this)and start TALKING TO THE TRUE LOCAL ANIMAL ADVOCATES….these would be the ones that publicly came out against this failure from the very beginning program….then the public and potentially world will rally behind the efforts your are wanting to make instead of ban together in massive numbers all over the world to shut it down…

    County Administrator Barry Burton and
    Doug Brightwell…the workshop discussion needs to highlight that yes the Purdue University study has standards….but of the 3000 licensed breeders in the USA…ONLY @250 have gone through and received the Purdue certification and that of the @200+ mid- west breeders that Pinnacle Pet works with to produce the puppies that Sunshine Pets and the other Pinellas County pet stores sell….that only @30 of those breeders are Purdue certified…

    There is a wonderful article on the front page of the Tampa Bay Times( Nov 19th 2023 )with more accurate information if you haven’t read it you really should…

    @90% of ALL pet stores get puppies produced from cruel horrendous puppy mills…..

    There is absolutely no way to commercially produce puppies…humanly…

    Dogs are not supposed to live their entire lives in small cages being bred for money,paws never touching the grass,never knowing a toy,belly rub,love from a human….rarely if ever getting medical…no matter how sick hurt or how much pain you’re in…

    Can you really keep supporting and enabling this???…

    Praying this will help..🙏🙏🙏❤️🐕🐈✝️

    Regards,
    Several Concerned Florida Animal Advocates

  4. Avatar

    Elizabeth Olson

    January 17, 2024at10:48 am

    As someone who runs a non[profit animal rescue, reading this article is disturbing.
    Less than a handful of people have spoken out in favor of this partnership, with Commissioner Peters being the biggest cheerleader, and too many to count in the animal welfare industry speak out against it. The list below of national and local animal organizations, that dedicate their lives to helping animals, are all against it. Who would you believe?
    I do not have a problem with rehoming the abused puppy mill dogs that have been forced to breed over and over for the greed of Pinnacle Pet and the other puppy mills. They deserve a chance to finally have a normal life and feel love. But I do have a problem with the SPCA giving the impreesion these puppy mills treat dogs well. For every ‘breeding facility’ that has minimal standards, there are hundreds that don’t.
    Education is key and clearly, some on this Pinellas County Commission need more of it.
    Here is a blog with a list of articles and organizations speaking out and why.
    There is a reason there was a nationwide backlash that caused the end of this partnership.
    Again, education is key.

    https://rescuepink.net/blog/f/spca-tampa-bay-partnership-with-retail-store-commercial-breeder
    PETA

    ASPCA

    Best Friends Animal Society

    Humane Society of the US

    SPCA of Brevard Adoption Center

    Humane Society of Tampa Bay

    Florida Voices for Animals

    Friends of Strays

    Florida Leaders in Lifesaving

    FL Assoc of Animal Welfare Org

    Humane Society of Pinellas

    Pet Pal Animal Shelter

    SPCA of Florida

    Jacksonville Humane Society

  5. Avatar

    Warren Patitz

    January 17, 2024at10:17 am

    For Commissioners Peters, Scott and Eggers, enquiring minds would like to know:

    For what animal rescue organization do you volunteer?

    How many animals have you fostered in your home?

    How many times have you visited Pinellas Co Animal Services facility during your servie as a Commissioner?

    Have you ever seen a pile of dead animals in a room awaiting the rendering truck pick up? I can assure you it is a graphic you can’t unsee.

  6. Avatar

    Dan Hester

    January 17, 2024at9:32 am

    I’m not surprised by the comments of Ms. Peters or Mr. Scott. Both of these elected officials need educated when it comes to animal welfare issues. Scott said he asked his vet about the issue and now he thinks he’s qualified as an expert. NOT! Ms. Peters wants to bring Boden in for a workshop. I think that’s a great idea as long as you bring in representative who are the real experts in the animal welfare industry like the Humane Society of the United States and Best Friends Sanctuary. Peters said. “She also lamented their tactics, which included repeated references to the number of dogs SPCA has euthanized”. Ms. Peters, it’s simply a fact. The SPCA Tampa Bay kills 50% of the animals that enter their front door. For your education, to euthanize an animal is an act of compassion for an animal who is sick and in pain. To euthanize for any other reason is just killing. In my opinion, the SPCA Tampa Bay is no more an animal shelter than your local meat market.

    Pinellas County Commission has one of the worst records in animal welfare in the state and country. Going back and attempting to return things as they were from two years back would open the door for Pinellas County to become the puppy-mill capital of the world.

    If any current or future commissioner supports such a move the public will respond with a collective loud voice and their political career will be over. Pick your battles commissioners but this one is not the one you want to fight!

  7. Avatar

    Anna Cooke

    January 16, 2024at8:02 pm

    Kathleen Peters, not everyone was after Martha Boden’s job. There were those who wanted, and still do want, the shelter BOD to do right by the animals in their charge and in their community. Novel solution, as you refer to it, Ms. Peters, is not what I would call something that was publicly denounced by shelter directors across the state as well as directors from national animal welfare organizations. Do you think they are all wrong in their thinking the puppy mill partnership was a bad idea? And, you don’t consider the number of animals euthanized by the SPCA Tampa Bay to be a problem, Ms. Peters?

  8. Avatar

    Susan Dill

    January 16, 2024at6:37 pm

    You know you can implement laws to conduct oversight of the puppy stores without involving a shelter that is supposed to be rescuing local animals. I don’t think anybody ever suspected the term “for all animals” meant any animal in the country. We have enough disaster to deal with right here without bringing dogs in from a 1000 miles away

  9. Avatar

    Art Fyvolent

    January 16, 2024at6:35 pm

    Great story, and as much as they think it was a positive opportunity, many, if not all of us in the tescue space, felt like it was a slap in the face to all the things that we do every year to support rehoming animals.

    Next time, they should bring the rescue groups into the conversation because we are on the front line of over breeding, overpopulation, and high euthanasia rates of pets. You couldn’t imagine the incredible amount of money, time and resources are spent by private organizations to do what the county should be more involved in. Doesn’t even begin to describe the emotional stress involved.

    The most important step forward is to turn off the spigot of overbreeding with mandatory spay/neuter. But we have always gotten deaf ear from the county.

    We all welcome a conversation, but we need to be included going forward, or the same reaction is going to happen again.

  10. Avatar

    Warren Patitz

    January 16, 2024at5:40 pm

    “The best thing you can do is know who the players are and regulate.” Yeah, good logic. Probably the best thing to be done is know who the child sex traffickers are and regulate. These commissioners must be partying with SPCA Tampa Bay officials. Obviously deaf to national/public sentiment and decency.

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