TAMPA — They descended on the county commission meeting armed with matching T-shirts, tear-jerking slideshows and months of practice at squeezing impassioned arguments into mere minutes of public comment.
Despite tears and pleas from those who packed the audience in hopes of keeping Hillsborough County’s few remaining puppy retailers open, commissioners were apologetic but unanimous Wednesday in their final decision to prohibit any commercial dog and cat sales in local pet stores.
“I believed in the government. I believed in you. I believed you would uncover the truth and protect the good guys," Alexa Julian, whose family operates the county’s two All About Puppies stores, told the board. “Not only did you ignore the truth, but now you want to bestow upon us an ordinance that says, ‘We want you out now, and it’s not because you did anything wrong - you didn’t - but just because we can.'”
The vote cemented amendments to a county ordinance that could force out the last three traditional pet stores still operating in Hillsborough County – Puppies Tampa and two All About Puppies locations — by forbidding the sale of any dogs or cats obtained from a breeder.
The board initially gave the businesses 175 days before the rules went into effect, but decided Wednesday to allow them one year to transition to an “adoption-based model” where any dogs or cats sold to the public must be obtained from animal shelters or rescue organizations instead of private breeders.
Commissioner Ken Hagan has spearheaded efforts to strengthen the county’s existing pet retail ordinances since last September, when the county became responsible for more than 300 puppies confiscated from a local breeder and retailer who kept them in horrible conditions.
The county’s Pet Resources department knew for years about fetid conditions inside Trish’s All Breeds Grooming — an operation now closed by the county and one that Hagan and others have called a “greed-driven puppy mill.” Yet the United States Department of Agriculture’s laws and restrictions on registered animal breeders made it “nearly impossible” for the county’s staff to keep an eye on the breeding conditions for puppies sold in Hillsborough, Hagan said.
“Having championed a number of animal issues over the years, I know that these issues are extremely emotional and at times are controversial,” Hagan told the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting. “But ... I do believe that only a complete ban on the sale of all commercially-bred dogs can end puppy mill cruelty.”
The amendments passed Wednesday prohibit all Hillsborough County pet retailers, including those that sell animals online, from purchasing any dogs or cats for their inventory that come from an animal breeder after the effective date. The change also prohibits the sale of any animal in public places such as flea markets or yard sales. That’s the same rule all pet stores have operated under since the ordinance was adopted in 2017. But the county allowed an exemption for existing animal retailers or breeders who were in good standing with the county’s Pet Resources department, including Puppies Tampa and All About Puppies.
“I have spent the last week trying to reconcile myself to our loss,” said Regina Galloway, the 76-year-old head of the family-owned All About Puppies chain.
“I’m not sure what I feel other than disappointment that all we offered did not prevail over outdated pictures and outdated statistics,” Galloway said. “I find solace in knowing that we gave it our all."
Puppies Tampa and both All About Puppies locations will now be required to sterilize every animal in their existing inventory and obtain a certificate from a local “humane entity” like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals vouching for the living conditions of animals owned by breeders who source their puppy inventory.
Falsifying records would result in immediate termination of all deadline extensions and other “grandfather privileges” in addition to a civil citation — one for every day of non-compliance and every animal in possession. And all animals left unsold would be purchased by the county after an allotted time period.
Commissioner Sandra Murman voted to pass the amendments as written, but empathized with the audience of puppy store owners, employees and supporters, vowing to “help in any way I can to help you change your business model going forward.”
She also agreed with concerns that forbidding traditional pet retail shops will encourage more unregulated breeding and rescue operations to turn a profit by selling animals online to Hillsborough customers.
“What I see happening is there will be a black market erupt from this and I don’t know how we can prevent that,” Murman said. “Our code enforcement people will be on it when we hear about it, but I do think that will come from this decision today.”