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SPCA forms unlikely partnership with puppy sellers

Mark Parker



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.

Martha Boden, CEO of SPCA Tampa Bay, spent her career fighting against puppy brokers and retailers; she is now working alongside them to ensure more dogs find a loving home.

Boden joined forces with the owners of Missouri-based Pinnacle Pet and local retailer Sunshine Puppies to create the groundbreaking For All Dogs pilot program. The SPCA now rehomes retired breeding dogs from responsible breeders.

The organization’s Veterinary Center also provides medical care for puppies throughout their stay at Sunshine Puppies’ stores in Largo and Clearwater. Boden once thought that “all breeding was done somewhat cavalierly.”

“I don’t think any of us thought we would be having this conversation two years ago,” Boden said. “Because we just felt like we were so far apart. And there was, frankly, so much history of attacks, not listening and name-calling – and it all came from a good place.”

In April 2022, Pinellas County Commissioners voted to allow the area’s six puppy retailers to remain in business. Boden fought against the measure.

She later met broker Chris Fleming, CEO of Pinnacle Pet, in Chicago at a conference. Fleming delivers puppies from over 200 responsible breeders to pet stores.

He also founded A Dog’s Dream, a nonprofit rescue organization. Fleming explained the puppy distribution process to Boden, who realized the industry’s effort to support breeders who use compassionate and humane breeding practices.

“So, this was a real eye-opener to me,” she said. “When I learned that the standards include an adoption pathway for dogs that are retiring from a breeding program, I thought that’s something that I’m really good at.”

SPCA receives and rehomes female dogs once they turn six years old or have six litters.

Fleming founded A Dog’s Dream in 2021 to help rehome female dogs when they reach six years old or have six litters – according to national standards. He said the nonprofit did “okay,” but the work went beyond his scope of expertise.

However, SPCA Tampa Bay has found homes for adult dogs for over eight decades. Fleming said that conversation with Boden led to the local For All Dogs pilot program.

He already had a longstanding business relationship with Dan Cohn, CEO of Sunshine Puppies. Cohn operates two of the county’s six puppy stores.

“We use the word ‘serendipitous’ a lot,” Fleming said. “I had no idea my delivery truck is within a mile of her (Boden’s) campus every week.”

He now brings popular purebred and mixed-breed adult dogs to the local SPCA in a customized truck. Fleming said they receive the same care as the puppies he delivers to Cohn.

Boden said she has only transferred about 20 dogs through the pilot program’s first six months. However, she said that “can have a significant impact, particularly when we’re in this learning phase.”

“Honestly, the whole idea right now is to just stay open to learning,” Boden said.

The three partners want to support responsible breeders, like the family that operates this expansive facility in Missouri.

Learning from – rather than fighting – one another is a critical aspect of the unique partnership. Cohn repeatedly stressed that he doesn’t blame the people who, “for all the right reasons,” want to shut down his business.

“They are very good people; they have very good hearts and want what’s best for the puppies,” he added. “But in the last two decades, that passion, to a certain degree, has been unintentionally misdirected.

“Because puppy mills are not shutting down.”

Cohn explained that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other agencies regulate pet stores. He said unlicensed puppy mills flourish online when the retail outlets close.

Cohn welcomes the oversight, and the three partners believe the pilot program promotes transparency. He also called Boden’s expertise “second to none.”

Boden said Cohn established stringent veterinary protocols in his stores. However, she thought the SPCA could better understand the retail process by offering those services.

Boden also noted that “means Dan (Cohn) has to be completely transparent with me. And that, I think, is really what animal advocates and animal welfare activists have hoped for.”

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

While Boden reiterated that her partners have impressed her with their willingness to collaborate transparently, she pledged to terminate the pilot program “if it goes the wrong way.” Cohn said concerned stakeholders should want the SPCA to visit his shop weekly.

Fleming explained he stakes his reputation on responsible breeders who complete strict certifications. He does not charge the SPCA for the retired dogs.

Boden said Fleming helped her realize there are compassionate breeders. “I don’t get called in when there’s a good breeder – I get called in when there’s a disaster,” Boden added.

She now believes the pilot program can serve as a regional and national model. “If we can slow down the rhetoric a little bit, work through our emotions, take a deep breath and come to the conversation with an open heart, there might be amazing things we can do,” Boden said.

“Is everything going to be perfect? No, that’s why this is a pilot. But we’re surely going to do a lot more good if we listen.”



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  1. Avatar

    Linda Valentino

    October 12, 2023at7:21 am

    Disgusting. I have a neighbor who has a puppy mill next door she thinks it’s good. She’s had many dogs bark all night. Sometimes in lol ate evening too. Calm them down walk them. I do mine too but my mutts like to play. We don’t need puppy mills, we need good safe clean dogs to love not ones that are sick.

  2. Avatar


    October 10, 2023at10:03 am

    Why are you repeating the framing that these are “responsible breeders”? There is no evidence to suggest that. Responsible breeders do not allow any of the dogs they’re responsible for creating to end up in shelters.

    The CEO’s video says it all – this is about allowing people to say they got their puppy “from a breeder through a shelter”. In other words, this isn’t about finding homes for dogs in need or ensuring that people in the community end up with the right dog, it’s about catering to people who want a puppy mill puppy but still want the ability to lord it over others that they got their dog through a shelter.

  3. Avatar

    Patrick Fox

    October 9, 2023at11:14 am

    This “project” is a direct affront to every other animal welfare organization in the country. Puppy mill breeders are looking for legitimacy and Tampa Bay SPCA is providing them an avenue to that end. Shameful and disgusting….

  4. Avatar

    Dan Hester

    October 8, 2023at2:01 pm

    It amazes me that anyone in the animal welfare arena would support such a scheme! The spin Boden puts on this “partnership” is pathetic. The following sums up her attempt to deceive the public. This is the email I sent to Ms. Boden.


    I’m pained by what I’m about to write.

    In all my many years of knowing you, I never thought you could or would do what I saw on the press release yesterday. In my opinion, you have abandoned any stature as a leader in the animal welfare movement. The actions you and your board have taken are irresponsible, at best. Jumping into a partnership with an industry that tortures animals is despicable.

    Allow me to remind you and your board a little bit of the language used by you and your partner in your news release:


    “Because currently, it is a problem, what do we do with those dogs, how do we keep a kennel young, how do we keep a kennel healthy, and yet still find homes and address the dogs that are done working,” said Fleming.

    So, your partner, Mr. Fleming acknowledges there is a problem with disposing of these dogs after they’re done “working.” Seems a bit insensitive coming from a man in an industry that has no problem throwing out a bitch with the garbage when she is done “working”…….WOW, now this is your new partner?


    “So, these are animals that are somewhere typically between four and six years old that are ready for the next step in life, they are done breeding, they’ve raised their families, now they want to go into a home, we are putting those animals up for adoption,” Boden said. “…”ready for the next step in life,” Boden said… No Martha, it’s not their next step in life! The problem with your statement is you implicitly agree these dog breeding machines first must “be working” for at least four years and then and only then will they be “ready for the next step in life.” WOW, that is a pretty disgusting way to look at the life of a forced-to-breed dog! “Next step in life,” “raised their families,” what else is there after working for a minimum four years and raising their forced families? Maybe college? Oh, I see what it is. Maybe get to feel the grass, experience the loving touch of a human, become a family member and not a machine for the first time in their lives! How can an alleged animal welfare advocate such as yourself support a forced-to-breed dog industry such as this, in any way? Seems an oxymoron to me – and many, many others enraged at this announcement.


    “This gives us an opportunity to bring the consumer along on the journey and say, “you know what, if you get a dog through this program, or a responsible store like Sunshine Puppies, you are actually taking business away from those who are not doing it well,” said Boden. —“This gives us an opportunity to bring the consumer along on the journey.” Why don’t you take them on a journey to some of the breeding locations these puppies are coming from? Yes, Martha, the same places mentioned at the county commission where then you were part of the animal welfare community and publicly spoke on behalf of Pinellas County animal welfare groups supporting the outlawing of retail pet sales?

    It strikes me as odd that your position has so drastically changed as it relates to this new venture of yours. I then thought about for it a minute and a light went off. Follow the money and there you will find the answer. With this arrangement you are about to engage in is nothing more than providing a stream of designer and pedigree dogs that you can then resell (characterized by you and your PR firm as compassionate adoptions) to the public: a brand-new revenue stream. Shame on you Martha. Shame on your board. You all have blood on your hands. I will be taking all avenues available to inform the public of this scheme, which in my opinion and those of others, is nothing more than trying to put lipstick on a pig. I hope you will make public the agreement signed by all parties involved in this scheme. Very sad day for animal welfare thanks to you and your board.
    I respectfully ask you send this email to your board and cc me.


    Dan Hester

    Co-Founder, Former Board President, MEOW Now Inc. (now a program of Friends of Strays)

    Former Board Member, SPCA Tampa Bay

    Former Vice Mayor, City of Seminole

    45 years of working for change in the animal welfare industry”

  5. Avatar

    Donna Bainter

    October 8, 2023at1:38 pm

    SPCA is blind to the local dogs both mixed and pure breeds that are in need of help in her back yard. Why make a deal with this pet store when these breeders are looking to place their breeding stock?
    More to this deal then meets the eye.

  6. Avatar

    Susan Dill

    October 8, 2023at10:27 am

    There are some times when “out of the box ideas” should be put back into the box. This is one of those times.

  7. Avatar

    Cindy Crane

    October 8, 2023at6:18 am

    I just can’t even get myself to read this. Just looking at her mug gives me ptsd. I’ve never hated anyone as much as I hate her. She not now, or ever did, belong in animal welfare. She’s been lining her pockets with the blood of our community pets long enough. She needs to be gone.

  8. Avatar

    Susan Dill

    October 8, 2023at5:54 am

    How many more Pinellas pets will you euthanize to make room for these puppy mill rejects? How many of your $200 adoptable dogs will be replaced with $1000 adoptable dogs? On this date you have two 3 year old chihuahuas you’re trying to sell for $700 each and a doodle mix for $1,000. This is more about increasing the value of your inventory than helping the pets in the county that supports you with donations. What you’re doing is a slap in the face to every rescue In this town. Since you don’t work with rescues now and don’t let them pull from your shelter, your disregard for their mission comes as no shock to me. It’s about the money, it always has been with you Martha.

  9. Avatar

    Never Florida

    October 7, 2023at10:22 pm

    Did the SPCA of Tampa even try to look at regional shelters across the US before they did this partnership. Many shelters across the US grapple with over 100% capacity and are needing to make tough decisions because of space and here they are partnering with one of the key contributors to this issue. Shelters receive puppies and pregnant moms all the time. This is lazy and unnecessary.

  10. Avatar

    Scarleth jim

    October 7, 2023at6:07 pm

    Wow this is absolutely devastating. Martha boden needs to go!!!

  11. Avatar

    Karl Nurse

    October 7, 2023at4:10 pm

    A deal with the devil is still a deal with the deal. The puppy mills are immoral.

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