Pasco seeks to forbid pet stores from selling cats and dogs

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Pasco County is seeking to stop the sale of dogs, cats, puppies and kittens from retail pet stores.

The Pasco County Commission, during its Aug. 4 meeting, heard the introduction of an amendment to a county ordinance — that would enact the new restriction.

Commissioners are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal at their Sept. 8 meeting, at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse, 37918 Meridian Ave., in downtown Dade City.

Mike Shumate, the county’s director of animal services, told commissioners the proposed change aims “to restrict the retail sale of dogs and cats, puppies and kittens, from pet stores — especially those intentionally selling from large, commercial breeders, out-of-state breeders, puppy mills, primarily.”

Shumate said the proposed ordinance change is consistent with his department’s mission to protect people and pets, within the community.

The new restriction is needed, Shumate said, because a significant number of puppies and kittens sold at pet stores come from out-of-state large-scale breeding facilities where the health and welfare of animals is not provided adequately.

Shumate said: “There’s documented abuses — endemic of the puppy and kitten mills — including overbreeding, inbreeding, minimal to nonexistent veterinary care, lack of nutritious food, water and shelter, lack of socialization, adequate space and exercise.

“The inhuman conditions of puppy mills and kitten mills often lead to health and behavioral issues,” he added.

And, that becomes a problem for future pet owners, the animal services director said.

“Consumers are often unaware of these issues when purchasing their animals from pet stores,” Shumate said.

Pet owners do have some recourse because there’s state law that puts restrictions and requirements on those importing animals from out-of-state, Shumate said. That regulation is often referred to as Florida’s pet-limit law, he said.

However, Shumate noted: “Many of these health and behavioral issues may develop later — once they’re outside the scope of the protection of the Florida statute —  to impose financial hardship and emotional costs on consumers.”

Prohibiting the retail sale of kittens and puppies likely will result in decreased demand for pets that were bred in puppy and kitten mills, the animal services director said.

It also likely will lead to an increased demand for pets from the animal shelter, from rescue operations and from local, registered breeders, he said.

“Most pet stores operate profitably with a business model focused on the sale of pet services and supplies, and not on the sale of dogs and cats,” Shumate said.

“A lot of your big box pet stores — such as Petco, PetSmart, Pet Supermarket, Pet Supplies Plus — throughout our county operate very profitable businesses, and they do not offer for sale dogs, cats, puppies and kittens,” he added.

Instead, they partner with animal shelters and rescue groups to adopt animals out, Shumate said.

The ordinance promotes collaboration between animal shelters, rescue organizations and pet stores to showcase adoptable, homeless pets at pet stores.

The amendment does not affect a consumer’s ability to obtain a pet, Shumate told commissioners.

“I’m sure if you are looking for any breed of dog, you can find it very quickly, here in Pasco County, or surrounding counties, or certainly within our own state,” Shumate said.

“We have no want for animals coming into our shelter every day, so we know that the population is still high,” he said.

“We have cats galore, in the county, that we’re desperately working on to get sterilized as quickly as possible with some of our programs and funding, and some of our partners and grants from Petco and PetSmart Charities, and things like that,” he added.

Animal services does its best to avoid euthanizing animals. Currently, it has a 93% save rate, Shumate said, crediting his staff and the shelter’s partners for that achievement.

Reducing the number of pets brought into the county from puppy or kitten mills should result in fewer pets being brought to the shelter — thus increasing the shelter’s available space to keep pets alive, while they are awaiting permanent homes, he added.

By adopting the amended ordinance, the county will join about 50 municipalities and eight other counties in Florida that already have passed similar ordinances, Shumate said.

The ordinance does allow an  exemption for current registered pet stores in the county.

That exemption is being permitted because there is just one existing pet store and the county has the ability to inspect it and respond to complaints, if any arise, Shumate said.

Published August 19, 2020



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