Champion of puppy mill ban not one to back down from a fight
Sun Sentinel |
Mar 11, 2016 at 5:49 PM
With Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow leading the charge, several dozen cities in South Florida have banned the sale of commercially-bred puppies and kittens.
HALLANDALE BEACH — It takes a real pit bull to lead a crusade against puppy mills.
Enter Michele Lazarow, a Hallandale Beach commissioner with three rescue dogs who has taken on what she calls one of the cruelest industries around.
With Lazarow leading the charge, several dozen cities in South Florida have jumped on the bandwagon, banning the sale of puppies and kittens that come from large-scale commercial breeders. The laws limit pet stores to selling animals from shelters, humane societies and rescue groups, with the goal of getting rid of puppy mills that churn out sick animals.
Similar bans have taken hold in cities throughout the nation over the past five years. But Florida has more than any state thanks to Lazarow, said Amy Jesse, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.
"She's been a huge part of this movement in Florida," Jesse said. "These ordinances are shutting off a huge supply chain for the puppy mill industry. We don't like to draw huge generalizations that every single pet store out there is getting their puppies from mills. But the vast majority do."
Lazarow, 48, says she loves both dogs and cats, but allergies prevent her from taking in felines. The Manhattan-born vegan stopped eating meat and dairy products six years ago for ethical reasons.
Lazarow studied theater, tried her hand at stand-up comedy in New York, and once owned a women's boutique in Hallandale Beach called Absolutely Fabulous.
Her quest to save animals led to her run for the Hallandale Beach City Commission. And personal experience prompted her to take up the case against puppy mills.
Lazarow bought a Maltese puppy named Alfie a dozen years ago from a pet shop in Hollywood. A shy pup marked down to $900, Alfie was chronically ill until he died at age 10 in May 2014, she said.
Lazarow says she has tried for years to get the ear of Hollywood officials, but was only recently invited to City Hall to give a presentation. Commissioners agreed to vote on the proposed ban at an upcoming meeting.
Lazarow started her crusade in 2011 in Hallandale Beach, where she lives. She began sending packets of information to the entire commission. It wasn't easy, she said. It took more than a year to get a law she calls a "no-brainer" on the books.
Lazarow says her aim is to protect suffering puppies and also pet shop customers who might not be aware of their rights under the state's puppy "lemon" law, which aims to protect consumers who buy cats or dogs that become ill or die shortly after purchase.
Lazarow has led protests outside pet stores, educated elected officials and counseled dozens of people who needed advice after coming home with a sick puppy.
Davie resident Deb Roth was heartbroken after a miniature pinscher she bought for $1,854 from a pet store in Pembroke Pines died from the parvo virus within a week.
"We had $3,300 in vet bills," Roth said. "They refunded us the $1,854. Not the vet bills."
Roth called Lazarow after hearing about her from a friend.
"She taught me the pet lemon law," Roth said. "She showed me how they lied to me. My dog was not from Ocala but from a puppy mill in Indiana. I will never buy from a puppy store again."
Lazarow's dedication to the cause has won her both friend and foe.
"She's a pit bull," Plantation Mayor Diane Veltri-Bendekovic said. "She has a passion for a cause and she follows through with it. Now whether you like the manner in which she does it is another issue."
Plantation approved the ban, but only after courts locally and around the country ruled it was constitutional.
Deerfield Beach Mayor Jean Robb, who tried unsuccessfully last year to repeal her city's ban on the sale of mass-bred cats and dogs, is not a fan.
"I was very annoyed by her approach," Robb said. "I did not need her interfering in Deerfield's business. Doesn't she have enough to keep her busy in Hallandale?"
Don Anthony, spokesman for the Fort Lauderdale-based nonprofit group Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, has accompanied Lazarow to dozens of commission meetings over the years to help pitch the ban to elected officials throughout the state.
"She's tireless," Anthony said. "Tenacious. If she were a dog, she'd be a bull dog. Bull dogs are very strong and they don't give up. Once they set their mind on something, they don't give up."
Lazarow has drawn the ire of pet shop owners and their lobbyists. Like other animal activists, she has been called an extremist, a fanatic, a zealot.
"I have no respect for her tactics," said Dominick Casale, the owner of Diamonds & Doggies in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, where commissioners rejected a ban in 2014 despite dozens of dog lovers descending on Town Hall.
"She tried to intimidate me, but she got sent packing," Casale said. "She brought in all outsiders to barnstorm the meeting. Her thugs came after me. I go on her Facebook page and they do nothing but plan attacks on people."
If every city in the country passed a ban like the one Lazarow advocates, people would have a hard time finding a purebred dog, Casale said.
"They want everyone to adopt rescue dogs," he said. "It's un-American to force people and tell them where they can buy a puppy from. People should be able to buy from whoever they want to. Go after where it starts. Go after the puppy mills."
Casale says he buys his puppies from commercial breeders with a U.S. Department of Agriculture license.
"No matter what you do, they call everyone a puppy mill," he said. "I have a kennel that sells 40 dogs a year and another kennel that sells 400 dogs a year. But if they are in compliance, it doesn't matter how many dogs they sell."
Lazarow argues bans are the most effective way to shut down puppy mills.
She credits Commissioner Keith London for helping the ban win approval in Hallandale Beach in mid-2012 and inspiring her to run for office later that same year.
"She's speaking for those who can't speak for themselves," London said. "What's more altruistic than that? She's effective. She came from being a total neophyte to passing her ordinance in 40 places."
Lazarow said the effort has taken on "a momentum of its own."
"For a certain amount of time I was the face of this movement," Lazarow said. "But now officials are doing this on their own."
Delray Beach gave initial approval to a ban and is expected to take a final vote this month. Davie, where officials postponed a ban in 2014, is expected to revisit the issue in April.
The following cities have embraced bans in Broward: Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Hallandale Beach, Lauderhill, Margate, North Lauderdale, Plantation, Pompano Beach, Sunrise, Tamarac and Wilton Manors.
In Palm Beach County, bans were passed by Greenacres, Hypoluxo, Jupiter, Lake Worth, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens.
In Miami-Dade, bans won approval in Aventura, Bal Harbour Village, Bay Harbor Islands, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Homestead, Miami Beach, North Bay Village, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Opa-Locka, Palmetto Bay, Pinecrest, Sunny Isles Beach and Wellington.
Lazarow helped lead the fight for most of those bans by talking behind the scenes with city officials and speaking out at public meetings. And she has no apologies for her naysayers.
"I have advocated and educated colleagues in close to 40 communities in Florida and helped pass legislation in over 35 of those cities, saving residents heartache over sick and ill puppies while at the same time helping to stop massive animal cruelty," she said. "I do this work all day every day. I have devoted most of my time and energy so I can continue this work."
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