BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County commissioners and members of the audience were in general agreement that something needs to be done to combat the inhumane practices of so-called "puppy mills" that breed dogs for sale. They just couldn't reach a consensus on what that something is.
So, after 2½ hours of public comment and County Commission discussion, commissioners decided Tuesday night against moving forward with a proposal by Vice Chair Bryan Lober to regulate the sale of dogs and cats in local pet stores, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Instead, the five commissioners will submit their own ideas for regulating the industry to County Attorney Eden Bentley, who will work with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office to craft a new proposal for consideration by the end of February.
Under Lober's initial proposal, pet stores in Brevard would have been allowed to sell dogs and cats only if the animals came from shelters, animal rescue organizations or "hobby breeders" — those who handle no more than 20 puppies or kittens a year. But they couldn't sell dogs or cats from puppy or kitten mills, or from other large-scale breeders.
Under the proposal, the operator of a pet store violating this section of the county's ordinance related to animals would have been subject to prosecution as a second-degree misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail.
Lober said his proposal was "narrowly targeted" and reflected community standards. Lober said that, while he does not believe local pet stores are abusing animal, he is concerned about where pet stores are getting their dogs and cats from. He referred to the practices of puppy mills "morally repugnant."
"This is the right thing to do," Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey told county commissioners, in supporting Lober's proposal.
Lober received input and suggestions about the legislation from Ivey — whose department operates the South Animal Care Center in Melbourne and the county's animal enforcement unit — and from Animal Services Operations Director Joe Hellebrand.
However, some county commissioners feared that such a proposal would force the shutdown of local pet stores — even though the stores may get their dogs and cats from reputable sources not involved in the puppy mill industry.
"It will put me out of business," said Bill Jacobson, owner of the Puppies Plus store in Melbourne, which has six employees.
After hearing Jacobson's comments, County Commissioner Curt Smith — who indicated that he was a satisfied customer of Jacobson's business in the past — said: "If we're going to put guys like this out of business, I'm not sure that's fair."
When it became apparent that Lober's proposal did not have enough support for approval of what's known as "legislative intent" to formally advertise it and schedule it for a public hearing, Lober recommended tabling the measure for a rewrite. The other four commissioners agreed.
Twenty-one speakers addressed county commissioners during Tuesday night's meeting, including six from the Tampa area who were sitting in the front row and were wearing matching "My Puppy, My Choice" shirts. Some of them were connected with pet store businesses. They spoke in opposition to Lober's proposal.
According to its website, My Puppy, My Choice "is a campaign that was started to inform the public of a movement by animal activists and extremists aimed at taking away your right to obtain a pet from a place of your choosing."
Among those supporting Lober's proposal were representatives of the Brevard Humane Society, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Brevard and Coastal Poodle Rescue, the latter of which is a group at which Lober has been a volunteer.
Brevard Humane Society Executive Director Theresa Clifton played a short video for commissioners, produced by the Humane Society of the United states, that depicted the poor conditions at puppy mills.
Clifton said those facilities treat puppies "like a commodity," not a living thing.
SPCA of Brevard Executive Director Angie Friers — who lived near puppy mills when she was in Ohio — said conditions of puppy mills are "disgusting. You'll be disgusted by what you see" at a puppy mill.
Nicole Capobiano of Vero Beach, who is pushing for legislation to regulate pet stores in Indian River County, told Brevard commissioners: "I hope you guys make the right decision, because the dogs deserve it."
Cocoa resident Diana Haines said Lober's proposal would "absolutely save lives — the lives of the voiceless."
Lober said the county and the state cannot directly regulate out-of-state puppy and kitten mills. But he believes his proposed legislation would have eliminated local sales outlets for dogs and cats that are born at such facilities.
"It can be a step in the right direction," Lober said. "The status quo is intolerable."
Ivey said he hoped Lober's proposal could work as a model for similar legislation in other countries and cities in Florida and elsewhere — and possibly statewide legislation.
"This is a big problem across the country," Ivey said. "I want to make sure pets are healthy and well-cared-for."
But Jacobson said he was not happy about the proposed legislation.
"You're just trying to throw mud, and see if it sticks," Jacobson told Lober at one point.
Jacobson said he works only with reputable, licensed breeders to acquire dogs for sale at his store. He conceded, though, that he could not quantify exactly how many breeders he buys dogs from and does not personally visit their facilities.
County Commission Chair Kristine Isnardi said she found it "disturbing" that Jacobson did not have such details or have in-person contacts with the breeders.
But Commissioner John Tobia said he couldn't support the county requiring pet store owners to visit the breeders they get dogs from — no more than he could support restaurant owners being required to visit the farms they get their produce from.
Ivey said he is not trying to put people like Jacobson out of business, but needs a way to indirectly go after puppy mills and similar facilities.
He said he would work with owners of pet stores, operators of local shelters and other interested parties to gather input on revised legislation.
Because county commissioners cannot discuss county businesses with one another in private, they enlisted Ivey and Bentley to coordinate the effort to revise Lober's proposal for consideration.
Lober's proposal would have applied to both unincorporated areas of the county and the county's 16 cities and towns. But a municipality could adopt its own ordinance related to pet stores that would supersede the county ordinance, if there are conflicting rules.
Any entity that has a business tax receipt from the county for the retail sale of dogs or
cats would have a one-year grace period from the date of adoption of the county ordinance to come into compliance, under the proposal.
Among other ideas that brought up at Tuesday's County Commision meeting:
• Smith said he would support the licensing and inspection of pet stores, much as is done for restaurants.
• Pritchett wanted the county to require pet store owners to get their dogs only from licensed commercial breeders.
• Haines suggested a ban on wire cages in pet stores and a ban on dog owners chaining their dogs outside.