The Manatee County Commission on Tuesday voted to become the 11th county in Florida to ban the retail sale of dogs and cats.
Animal rights activists and opponents of the ban debated the issue for hours on Tuesday afternoon. Supporters of the ban have argued against alleged cases of inhumane practices at commercial livestock facilities, while others argued that the ban would unfairly target the business model of a private company.
Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the ban. Commissioners Reggie Bellamy, Misty Servia, Carol Whitmore and George Kruse voted in favor, while Commissioners James Satcher, Kevin Van Ostenbridge and Vanessa Baugh cast dissenting voices.
The county’s proposal allows pet stores to continue retailing cats and dogs for another year. The ban will come into effect on August 11, 2022, for any store that already sells the animals. An exemption has also been made for animal welfare groups and shelters that offer adoptions without seeking to profit from the exchange.
More than 60 people took part in the heated debate during an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposal. This is the fifth time Manatee County officials have considered such a ban in recent years, led by Commissioner Carol Whitmore’s passion for animals.
“I raised this question because citizens ask me about this request. We are not here because we want to close a business. We don’t support the business model, ”Whitmore said.
Activists on both sides of the debate filled the county committee chambers for a discussion that lasted more than five hours. On one side of the hall, supporters wore yellow shirts that read “Vote yes for the puppies”, while opponents across the hall wore red shirts that read “Save our pet stores, save our jobs ”.
More than two dozen animal welfare advocates have spoken out against retail pet stores, such as Petland, which sell cats and dogs instead of offering them up for adoption. They accused the stores of sourcing from puppy mills known for mistreating their animals, they said.
Animal activists have shared horror stories of expensive young animals sold in Petland stores who quickly fall ill with deadly diseases. Petland owners and chamber workers disputed these claims, pointing to successful sales that resulted in a lifelong bond between the animal and its buyer.
“This is not about the cruelty and abuse these animals go through before they are bought, not adopted,” said Nathan Levinson.
“If you think dogs aren’t mistreated or injured in puppy mills, you need to visit one,” Patty Engle added. “They don’t want you to see what’s going on.
But a large group of organizers also spoke out against the ban, asking the board to focus its attention on puppy mills breaking the rules rather than retail stores.
“We all want to protect pets. This order is off target, ”said Mark Barnebey, a lawyer hired on behalf of the two Petland stores in Manatee County. “A lot of jobs are at stake with this. It would be unfair to sound the death knell.
Petland employees also addressed the board. They spoke up for their employer and the way animals are treated in their stores. While Petland offers other pet products and services, local store owners predicted their stores would be forced to close because their business models rely heavily on selling cats and dogs.
“There is no doubt that this ban will bankrupt us,” said Neal Benecke, co-owner of Bradenton Petland store.
According to Petland officials, the company only deals with breeders licensed by the US Department of Agriculture. Once the ban is approved, around 50 employers will be made redundant, they said.
“If you do away with puppy retailing, think about the consequence. The void will be filled with puppy mills and that’s why I’m against this ban, ”said David Smith, a local veterinarian, who argued that the ban would cause animal buyers to buy from non-sellers. regulated.
In an effort to find common ground, Petland’s legal team has made a proposal that changes the ban to still allow the retail sale of dogs and cats acquired from local breeders or licensed breeders. USDA.
The commissioners rejected the proposal after noting that many of the problems reported at commercial breeding facilities stem from a lack of enforcement on the part of USDA inspectors.
“If the USDA was doing its job, we wouldn’t even have this discussion. I don’t like the local government being put in this position, ”Servia said. “The current situation is that getting USDA approved doesn’t even make sense. “
Other board members said they were comfortable approving a retail ban that could lead to business closures. They argued that they had not seen enough evidence to prove that Petland and other pet stores were purchasing their animals from dangerous or inhumane facilities.
“We can say we don’t bankrupt them, but we don’t know, do we? We don’t think we are. You allow them to sell other products, but is it the government’s role to refine the business model of legitimate business operations in this county? Van Ostenbridge asked.
“You have a divided advice on the real answer here,” Baugh added. “I’m not saying I’m right or wrong, but I’m not convinced.”
Despite approval of the ban, commissioners say they see a legal challenge to their ruling on the horizon.
“I can guarantee you that it is not over no matter which direction we go,” said Bellamy.