TAMPA — Looking to curb abusive puppy mills, Hillsborough County commissioners moved ahead Wednesday with a proposal to ban the commercial sale of cats and dogs.
Under the proposed ordinance, new pet stores would be able to sell only dogs or cats purchased from local animal rescues. They would be barred from getting their supply of animals from large-scale breeders.
Existing pet stores, however, would still be able to operate here unrestrained, a concession commissioners made after hearing complaints from the owners and employees of Hillsborough puppy stores.
Commissioner Ken Hagan, who brought forward the proposed ban, said many breeders incorporate abusive practices and house animals in inhumane conditions. Those abuses aren't always readily apparent when people visit pet stores with cute puppies in the window.
Most of the industry's suppliers aren't in Florida, so shutting down commercial sales is the only way to guarantee dogs and cats aren't coming from these breeders, he said.
"Eliminating the sales outlet is essential to addressing this problem," Hagan said. "It doesn't make sense to import animals when we already have thousands of unwanted animals."
According to the county attorney's office, 48 other Florida jurisdictions have passed similar restrictions.
The proposed regulations drew an outcry from owners and employees of All About Puppies, which operates two of the three existing commercial pet stores in Hillsborough County, one in Carrollwood and the other in Brandon. The other Hillsborough store is Puppies Tampa on N Dale Mabry Highway.
Supporters of the puppy stores flooded the public comment period of Wednesday's meeting, wearing baby blue T-shirts with the slogan "My puppy my choice."
"This ordinance as written 100 percent force-closes my business in 90 days," said William Roland, owner of Puppies Tampa.
Advocates of the new rule noted stores could still sell rescue dogs and cats. But the stores' argument gained traction with several commissioners, who said they didn't want to see county regulation shutter a business.
"I do not want to put anybody out of business today. That's wrong," Commissioner Sandy Murman said. "America was founded on people having the right to open a business, keep a business and operate it without fear of government regulation."
Ultimately, commissioners voted to grandfather in the three existing pet stores and will create an incentive program that encourages them to get their dogs and cats from the county's Pet Resource Center and other local shelters.
The ordinance does not affect large pet stores like PetSmart because they already utilize rescued dogs and cats exclusively, Hagan said.
A public hearing and final vote on the ordinance is expected next month.
Commissioners also asked county staffers to prepare regulations that crack down on suppliers over concerns that stopping pet sales won't be enough to prevent abusive breeders.
"It's feeding the wrong end of the dog," Commissioner Victor Crist said, "because what we're going to end up doing is something that does nothing to stop the puppy mills."
Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.
This story has been edited to clarify that William Roland is the owner of Puppies Tampa.