NEW PORT RICHEY — Concerns from small breeders prompted commissioners on Tuesday to postpone adopting a new animal welfare ordinance.
The ordinance is meant to crack down on puppy mills and also those who tether their dog outside for hours on end.
"We run into very grim circumstances where people put the animal out in the heat or the cold," said Animal Services director John Malley. "And ultimately it can end up in a severe cruelty (case) or in death."
The tethering provisions would require owners to stay outside with their pet and provide water and shelter. Dogs must be tied to a pulley-like system giving them at least 15 feet to run.
Malley also proposed a new permit for breeders to allow county inspectors to check if animals are kept in sanitary areas. The ordinance would prohibit breeders from selling animals on the side of the road or at flea markets.
But breeders who sell dogs at the USA FleaMarket in Hudson say they run a clean operation and that the measure would threaten their business.
"Anybody can come to that store and check on my puppies, and they are happy," said Gloria Harding, who sells pets three days a week with her husband, Alan.
Harding also said the ordinance simply wouldn't eliminate puppy mills. "They're just pushing more on Craigslist," she said, referring to unscrupulous breeders who advertise online. "They're all going to go underground."
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she supported the flea market ban: "I do not think that's the proper place to sell dogs and cats. I think there could be a lot of abuse."
Commissioner Ted Schrader suggested the ordinance could be tweaked to allow sales only in enclosed flea markets, like the one in Hudson.
Commissioners also heard from several people like Jeanne St. John of Odessa, who said the guidelines would be too burdensome. "My problem is I'm a hobby breeder. I breed once every three years. And I don't want to get caught up in all of these permits."
Fees for the inspections and the application form have not yet been established. The ordinance exempts people who breed two litters per year or less, or less than 20 animals.
Commissioner Jack Mariano also said the tethering restrictions were too strict. He said he could be a target of a complaint from a disgruntled neighbor if he left his pet tied up outside for a few minutes.
"I know you're trying to keep pets from being abused," he said. "But at the same time I think you're going so far that you're cutting back on some freedoms and privileges and a way of life people are used to having with their pets."
Officials said animal services staffers already settle disputes between neighbors.
"Our animal control staff has been cut significantly," said assistant county administrator Dan Johnson. "We don't have time to go looking at problems of that nature."
After about an hour of discussion, County Administrator John Gallagher suggested that commissioners postpone adopting the ordinance as staffers try to address breeders' concerns.
Commissioners agreed to split the ordinance into two parts. One part, with non-controversial provisions that align the county's rules with state laws, would be considered in two weeks. The tethering and breeder restrictions were postponed until Jan. 24.
Lee Logan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6236.