County commissioners invited discussion on retail pet-sale regulations to explore policy options for protecting both animals and animal owners.
To discourage the demand that keeps puppy mills and kitten factories in business, Orange County commissioners directed county officials to draft a new animal ordinance that addresses retail pet-sale restrictions.
The proposal came forward following a growing trend of jurisdictions passing stricter regulations to curtail the sale of cats and dogs bred by high-volume animal-breeding facilities.
Puppy mills often subject dogs to unsanitary conditions, keeping them in crowded cages where they receive no exercise and minimal food and water. Kitten factories operate in much the same way. The animals then are taken from their mothers earlier than recommended and end up in pet stores.
The Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization, estimates about 10,000 puppy mills presently operate in the U.S.
The magnitude of the problem makes it difficult to combat, but several jurisdictions have passed policies placing stricter regulations on retail pet sales.
According to George Ralls, Orange County’s director of health and public safety, Florida is one of 16 states without a specific law that addresses commercial breeding operations.
He added that in Florida, there are 80 jurisdictions that ban retail pet sales, most of which are city governments and four of which are counties: Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Seminole and Lake counties. Orange County does not have an ordinance on retail pet sales, Ralls said.
During the June 5 Orange County commission meeting, Ralls compared the ordinances for three of those counties.
According to Ralls, Palm Beach County implemented a ban on the retail sale of cats and dogs in October 2016, forbidding the issuance of new pet-shop permits. The county’s eight existing pet shops were exempt from the new ordinance but are required to obtain cats and dogs only from USDA-licensed breeders.
In February, Seminole County passed a law that prohibits the retail sale of animals, including in places such as flea markets, yard sales and public areas. It also required pet shops to use an adoption-based business model, meaning pet shops may only recoup costs incurred while caring for an animal and must produce certificates of origin to customers, Ralls said.
However, Palm Beach and Seminole do continue to allow pet sales by “hobby breeders,” animal rescue organizations and the county’s animal shelter. And in Lake County, only the county’s animal shelter, animal-rescue organizations and private animal owners are allowed to sell cats and dogs. Violations in each county are subject to fines of up to $500.
Commissioners instructed county officials to draft an ordinance implementing the best practices from surrounding jurisdictions. Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said she’d prefer an ordinance with firm restrictions.
Any resulting ordinance would be effective in municipalities without an existing retail pet-sale ordinance.
“I don’t have a problem with trying to be more restrictive and starting … because I have also had too many friends who bought their dogs from pet stores and the dogs came with a lot of problems,” Jacobs said. “The families kept them, because they fell in love with them, but they shouldn’t have been bred and had those problems in the first place. So I just think it’s a very unhealthy situation, and I’d like to see us take a strong position.”
Seminole County resident Katrina Shadix cautioned commissioners about USDA-licensed breeding facilities.
“One thing about requiring pet stores to sell only from USDA-licensed breeders is that the USDA is very short on officials and enforcement,” Shadix said. “There’s a lot of violations that happen every year. There’s no way they could possibly enforce and know that these animals are being properly bred.”
Currently, there are about 1,900 USDA-licensed breeding facilities in the U.S. and about 100 inspectors, Ralls said. And according to the Humane Society, it’s rare for USDA-licensed facilities found to have repeated violations to have their commercial licenses revoked.
Jacobs agreed she felt an ordinance promoting adoption of animals in the county’s shelter and local rescue groups would be easier to monitor and enforce.
District 1 County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey emphasized creating an easily enforceable ordinance.
“Whatever we do in terms of an ordinance, we need to make sure we can enforce what we do,” she said. “I’m not a fan of putting language out there that we don’t then fund positions to enforce.”