Brevard approves restrictions on pet store sales of dogs, cats to combat puppy mills

Ordinance passes with 3-2 vote

(Photo: Florida Dept. of Health)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County commissioners have approved an ordinance to restrict the sale of dogs and cats at local pet stores, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The measure approved Tuesday night was modified so much from the version of the ordinance that Vice Chair Bryan Lober's proposed in January that some members of the public who supported his initial plan were opposed to the one approved Tuesday.

Under the ordinance commissioners approved Tuesday by a 3-2 vote, pet stores in Brevard County can sell dogs and cats that come from:

  • Animal shelters or animal rescue organizations.
  • "Hobby breeders" whose operations have 48 or fewer offspring a year.
  • Larger U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed commercial breeders that do not have certain documented violation from any governmental agency or entity in the preceding four years.

The latter two provisions were added to the ordinance during the legislative process at the behest of Commissioner Rita Pritchett, who had concerns about the impact of Lober's initial proposal on breeders and pet stores.

Some speakers at Tuesday's meeting said the two new provisions watered down the ordinance so much it would be ineffective in pursuing Lober's goal — to combat inhumane breeding practices by so-called "puppy mills" and "kitten factories" in other states.

The county ordinance will not take effect for one year against existing pet stores.

Officials say only one major pet store in Brevard currently sells dogs and cats — Puppies Plus in Melbourne. That store's owner, Bill Jacobson, told commissioners the ordinance would put him out of business and would cost his six employees their jobs.

Still to be worked out in the ordinance are the specifics about what types of violations would disqualify a breeder from supplying dogs and cats to a local pet store.

That remained a hang-up with Pritchett, and at one point during Tuesday's meeting put her favorable vote on the ordinance into question.

Lober said he would work with Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey and people in the community interested in the issue to figure out the details of that provision. Lober then will bring proposed wording back to the County Commission in six months for a vote.

Voting in favor of the ordinance Tuesday were Lober, Pritchett and County Commission Chair Kristine Isnardi.

Voting against were Commissioners Curt Smith and John Tobia. They felt the ordinance would negatively affect local businesses, while doing little to fight against puppy mills.

Brevard County has no direct control over puppy mills and kitten factories, since they are not located here. Lober said restrictions on local pet stores are the best thing the county can do, as the ordinance restricts the sale of puppy mill dogs locally, for example. The fewer locations available for the sale of puppy mill dogs, Lober contends, the harder it would be for puppy mills to profit.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," Lober said. "We are better off than when we started."

Lober conceded that the ordinance is not all he had hoped for.

But Lober, an attorney and mediator, added that the most successful mediation is when neither side is thrilled with the outcome, but the agreement is fair.

"This is the best we can do at this point," Pritchett said.

Isnardi said, while she is cautious about overregulation of businesses, she believes the pet store ordinance that commissioners approved is "a happy medium," considering that the pet stores affected "profit off of the selling of living things."

Smith, though, said that while he didn't want to "throw a wrench into this love-fest here," he didn't believe the ordinance will have any effect on combating the negative practices of puppy mills and will not protect animals.

"I'm a free-market guy," who doesn't want to needlessly hurt local businesses, Smith added.

There were 15 speakers who addressed the County Commission on Tuesday on the pet store ordinance.

Among the supporters was Theresa Clifton of Canaveral Groves, executive director of the Brevard Humane Society, who said that "we have to start somewhere" in regulating pet stores.

The latest version of the ordinance also won over members of the "My Puppy, My Choice" organization who have been driving from the Tampa area to Viera for County Commission discussions of the pet store issue. The group, which has connections to pet stores in the Tampa area, had been opposed to Lober's initial proposal.

But Daniel Willemin of Satellite Beach told commisioners he was concerned about how the ordinance was turning out.

"It feels like this is losing its teeth," Willemin said.

John La Salle of Viera didn't support the ordinance for another reason.

"It's not a solution to the problem" of out-of-state puppy mills, while also potentially resulting in the closing of a longtime local business — Puppies Plus.

"They're two different animals," La Salle said.