Pasco County commissioners are having a hard time collaring suspected puppy mills. Months after retreating from a tougher proposal to ban sales of dogs and cats at flea markets, commissioners on Tuesday agreed to ban the tethering of unattended animals but they failed to agree on a strategy for regulating breeders selling at flea markets, opting once again, irresponsibly, to delay action sought by county staff.
Undeterred, Commissioner Pat Mulieri pledged to push to prohibit retail sales of animals by flea market vendors. A public hearing on her plan will likely be held in April. Animal advocates like the idea, contending flea markets are a favored site for so-called puppy mills and unscrupulous breeders to do business because their operations can escape regulatory oversight.
But the equivocating from a commission majority casts doubt on the political viability of Mulieri's effort. A more palatable alternative could have included adopting the proposed permitting rules — requiring inspections of both breeding and sales locations for flea market vendors — and adding a one-year sunset provision. That would allow the county an opportunity to see if the new requirements are effective in preventing inhumane breeding conditions while simultaneously giving Commissioner Jack Mariano time to devise his own alternative beyond serving as obstructionist.
Mariano sought to scrap the staff-proposed flea market controls and cast the only dissenting votes on prohibiting tethering of animals and on a new Animal Services business plan. Mariano objected to the tethering rule, saying it was an overreach by government and he balked at the business plan when he learned it contained higher licensing fees to finance new initiatives.
The business plan — including a capture/spay/release program for cats and greater public education — is intended to cut the animal euthanasia rate at the county shelter to just 10 percent. The shelter currently puts down about 40 percent of its animals, a significant improvement over just two years ago when roughly three-fourths of the 4,0000 animals taken in by the county annually were euthanized.
The proposed crackdown on puppy mills, including the ban on selling animals at flea markets, is part of the overall effort to reduce the number of unwanted pets in Pasco. A commission determined to save nine of every 10 animals left at its shelter shouldn't resist the recommendations of its professional staff and its own citizens advisory committee. If commissioners are truly committed to bolstering the humane treatment of animals, they must allow its Animal Services division the ability to do its job properly.