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Sarasota Monday, Sep. 21, 2015 6 years ago

Commissioners authorize public hearing on retail pet sales ban

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Commissioners voted to let the public testify on the issue after hours of public comment at the Sept. 21 Board of County Commissioners meeting.
by: Jack Short Staff Writer

Sarasota County Commissioners listened to several hours of public input today, before authorizing a public hearing on an ordinance banning retail pet sales in the county.

Some commissioners hesitated because of objections to the ordinance as it is written because of potential injury to unintended parties, but authorized a hearing which is, as Commissioner Paul Caragiulo noted, is one step toward the possible implementation.

The proposed ordinance would ban retail sales of pets countywide, which pet store owners alleged during the comment period would force them to source pets from shelters.

Only commissioner Robinson dissented, citing objections to the language of the ordinance and the likelihood it might affect “home breeders” unintentionally. Assistant County Attorney Dave Pearce said his office could “provide options” to prevent unintended effects in the language of any ordinance if necessary.

“This to me right now is so poorly written and so intrusive … ,” Robinson said. “I can’t support it the way it’s written right now. I think we need a separate discussion about puppy mills. We need consideration of language before we have a public hearing.”

The volleys that went back and forth before commissioners for over three hours have been pent up for approximately three years. Russell Matthes of Sarasota Defense of Animals said he first brought the issue at hand before the board of county commissioners in 2012 for the first time. County commissioners considered the matter at a meeting before directing the staff to research the issue.

“The chamber got overwhelmed,” Matthes said.

Since then, he said, SDA been steadily supplying information to the board related to issue. Concerns about lawsuits related to unlawful taking and the commerce clause of Florida’s constitution can be assuaged, he said. Job losses can be mitigated by stores and employers by adding other goods and services. But he said some job losses were acceptable.

“If anybody’s relying on their business being successful by importing (pets) from puppy mills and kitten factories, and fleecing people,” he said, “then, absolutely, jobs will be lost.”

Opponents cautioned that the ordinance would effectively deregulate all pet sales in the county, pushing people into non-commercial, unlicensed, uninspected facilities.

Edwin Sayres, former president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that during his 10 years with that organization, he authorized the rescue of 2,500 puppies, none of which were taken from USDA licensed breeders.

Much of the exchange between opposing sides of the issue focused on Petland, a privately held Ohio corporation with a store in Sarasota, but a staff report identified at least six other establishments in the county that sell animals.

Tamara Feliciano, who is suing Petland Corporation in Sarasota and Kennesaw, Georgia, Petland Sarasota’s preferred veterinarian, and Quail Creek Kennels, a broker Petland uses, called the group “part of a criminal racketeering enterprise that exists solely to create confusion about where Petland is sourcing their animals.”

Brad Parker, who is part owner of Petland Sarasota, said he works closely with breeders but admitted to commissioner Paul Caraguilo that he also works through a broker as well, who sources animals on behalf of Petland.

Joe Watson, president of Petland, said that banning retail sales of pets wouldn’t put puppy mills out of business. He said Petland purchases animals from USDA-licensed breeders with no violations in the last year. He told the commissioners who asked about violations, “It’s happened a time or two recently where we’ve had to go in and do an inspection and we’ve found someone who’s violated (that policy) ...”

Commissioners struggled with what they saw as unintended consequences of the ordinance. Commissioner Charles Hines said  though he would vote for a public hearing, he would not vote to pass the ordinance as it is written. “(I don’t want it to affect) good, reputable breeder(s) in Sarasota County people can inspect firsthand when they buy a pet. “I don’t want to prevent that.” Hines said. “There, the consumer’s protected.”

He cautioned all present that testimony given at a public hearing would be given under penalty of perjury and said he planned on challenging testimony given on behalf and in opposition to the ordinance.

Christine Robinson, said this ordinance has a direct impact on responsible breeders of sarasota county.

Commissioner Paul Caraguilo moved to authorize the hearings even though he had “real, logistic concerns.”

Morgan Bentley, an attorney that has been working with Sarasota Defense of Animals to help structure the ordinance and monitor four related cases throughout the nation.

Bentley said those cases were decided favorably for proponents of the ban.

When asked if the opposition’s argument that a ban would effectively push buyers into unregulated territory, he responded, “Why let the perfect be the enemy of the good? You look at what’s in front of you. But, yes, I think that’s area that needs to be looked at as well,” referring to unregulated, private breeders.

Staff told commissioners the hearing would likely not be able to be scheduled until January.

Lamar Parker, one of the owners of Petland Sarasota, said that, he hasn’t had time to absorb the decision to authorize a public hearing, but that if it passed, Petland Sarasota and its 36 employees “would be out of business.”

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