Revised guidelines and regulations for pet stores and breeders could be coming to Collier County ahead of the installation of a controversial pet store franchise, but animal advocates aren’t convinced the changes will do any good.
On Tuesday, commissioners are expected to hear proposed changes to the county’s animal control ordinance, which, among other things, would allow county staff to inspect pet stores once a month instead of once a year.
The proposal would also add more standards of care regulation for pet shops and pet dealers, including requiring companies to provide information to customers about animals, breeders and breeding facilities. Rules for animal enclosures would also be added.
To deal with what would likely be an increased workload should the new changes go into effect, the county would also hire a full-time and part-time animal control officer. It could cost around $105,000 per year.
The biggest proposed change, said Darcy Andrade, director of the county’s pet services division, is “that we actually define pet stores.”
These will be defined as businesses that sell dogs and cats, while pet stores will be retail chains, like PetSmart and Petco, that can provide space for rescues for adoption. Currently, Collier only has one pet store, Andrade said, which is open by appointment only.
Following: Collier commissioners won’t bite on retail ban for cats and dogs
Following: Sale of cats or dogs in stores could be banned or restricted in Collier County
Under current rules, pet stores and breeders have been grouped together. Henceforth, they would be treated separately.
The proposed changes provide better guidance and a better understanding of what is expected of businesses, Andrade said.
And while under the current rules, no specific reason is given why the DAS can revoke, suspend or deny a license, the proposal sets out the scenarios in which the county can do so, including if the license holder or the claimant has been convicted of cruelty to animals or knowingly employs or employed someone who has done so.
“Before, it didn’t give any indication,” Andrade said. “Everything was subjective.”
Proposed ban on the retail sale of cats and dogs
In October, the commissioners waived a possible ban on the retail sale of cats and dogs, a measure that animal activists had been pushing for, arguing it would help prevent the abuse of commercially bred animals.
Supporters of a ban also said it would help protect the public from contracting an infectious disease linked, among other things, to contact with pet store puppies.
But the proposed ban had been fiercely opposed by an owner of several Petland franchises who plans to open a Collier store by mid-April. He argued that most of his business came from selling puppies in his stores and that he made sure the animals were treated well and did not come from so-called puppy mills.
After a ban decision failed by a 3-2 vote in October, commissioners instead ordered the county animal services advisory board to return with an order regulating the retail sale of cats and dogs.
But for animal activists who have advocated for a ban, the proposed measures miss the mark.
“You’re creating a false sense of security for the consumer,” said Michele Lazarow, president of the nonprofit Alliance For Animal Welfare. “You’ve now said to the consumer, ‘Oh, no, you’re okay with buying a dog. We regulate it.'”
Lazarow, a Hallandale Beach city commissioner who has advocated for bans in municipalities across the state, said “not a single thing” in the ordinance protects the consumer or an animal.
Good breeders, she says, don’t sell to stores. Hillsborough County also tried to regulate the practice at first, Lazarow said, but is now heading toward a ban. Hillsborough Commissioners last month put forward a proposal to ban all commercial pet shops.
“Hillsborough County has already done this search for Collier,” said Lazarow, who was among those who asked Collier’s commissioners to ban the sale in October. “They embraced this nonsense two years ago and then had to come back and ban it because they realized they couldn’t regulate it.”
She fears Collier will never have the chance to follow Hillsborough’s lead because potential future state-level legislation could take away the county’s right to ban the practice.
“My worry is that’s what’s going to happen here, but the preemption is going to pass,” Lazarow said. “And then we won’t be able to solve this problem.”
She also asked how Collier would be able to enforce the order.
“How do you apply that with 100 dogs every month?” Lazarow asked.
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Raising the Bar for Pet Retail Businesses
But for Luis Marquez – who plans to open a Petland franchise, his sixth in Florida, at the corner of Immokalee Road and US 41 – the ordinance raises the bar for pet retail businesses of company.
“We’ve always said our goal was to raise the standards,” he said. “I think this ordinance does.”
The proposed regulations give animals more room, require stores to regularly socialize puppies and require companies to source from better breeders, Marquez said.
“It will be full transparency for the consumer,” he said, referring to the information that will be provided on breeders. Marquez said the ordinance will take care not only of the consumer, but also of the animals.
He said he was happy with the proposed rules, except for the requirement that dogs and cats must be sterilized before they can be released to a consumer.
Marquez said it’s not safe to neuter a puppy and most of the time vets recommend waiting six months or longer.
“That’s the one thing we really asked them to reconsider,” he said, referring to the proposed rule.