Extensively debated pet store ordinance could face final County Commission vote Tuesday
What has become a time-consuming process will be taking up more of the Brevard County Commission's time on Tuesday evening, as commissioners try to finalize an ordinance regulating pet stores.
The initiative by County Commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober is designed to put a dent in the practices of so-called "puppy mills" that breed dogs in sometimes-inhumane conditions in the name of profits.
The ordinance is aimed at reducing the market for dogs from out-of-state puppy mills by regulating their sale in Brevard County pet stores. But officials say the measure, as it currently stands, would affect just one major pet store in Brevard County — Puppies Plus in Melbourne.
County Commission debate on the issue has brought speakers from as far away as the Tampa area and South Florida to the commission chambers in Viera. And Lober's proposal has evolved over time, as he seeks an ordinance that can win the support of at least three of the five commissioners.
Initially, he wanted to ban the sale of dogs and cats at pet stores in Brevard, except for animals that came from animal shelters or animal rescue organizations. He later revised the proposal to include dogs and cats that came from "hobby breeders" whose operations have 48 or fewer offspring a year. Now, the proposal also allows sales of dogs and cats from U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed commercial breeders that have no documented violation from any governmental agency or entity in the preceding four years.
Commissioners Curt Smith and John Tobia have voted against Lober's proposals on pet store regulation, while County Commission Chair Kristine Isnardi has voted in favor of them. Lober changed his proposal over time to gain the backing of Commissioner Rita Pritchett, who has expressed concerns about the impact of the rules on breeders and retailers.
And that didn't sit well with an advocate of the restrictions, Michele Lazarow of Hallandale Beach in Broward County, president of the Animal Defense Coalition and a Hallandale Beach city commissioner.
Lazarow told Brevard commissioners at their March 26 meeting that she was disappointed by what has transpired during the County Commission's debate on the issue, including what she felt was negotiation on the dais between Lober and Pritchett to find a compromise ordinance they both could vote for.
Lazarow said the current version of the ordinance is "written to protect the very businesses that we are trying to stop," adding that doing nothing "is better than this" because the latest proposal is "watered down and unenforceable."
"If you want to protect cruel and immoral business practices, this is not a law for any of you," Lazarow said.
She said the result if the current version of the ordinance passes will be more pet stores selling commercially bred dogs opening in Brevard, as they leave Florida communities that implement more restrictive pet store rules.
Tobia then spoke up to defend his fellow commissioners.
"We are presented with more information, and we take that into consideration," Tobia said, adding that he didn't want Lazarow "to impugn a member of this board who changed their mind."
"Welcome to the legislative process," Tobia told Lazarow. "This is how it works."
Tobia also took issue with Lazarow's concern that more pet stores would open in Brevard.
"The threat at the end that we may have more businesses in Brevard County that may pay more taxes and may employ more people — is that the end result that could happen?" Tobia asked Lazartow.
"Commissioner," Lazarow responded, "it's obvious that you're not in support of this. Don't vote for it. That's my suggestion to you."
"That was your statement, was it not, that we would end up with more business here?" Tobia said.
"Correct," Lazarow said. "Selling more commercially bred puppies from mills."
In his agenda report to commissioners, Lober writes that "while not all dogs or cats sold in retail pet stores are the product of puppy mills or kitten factories, it is widely believed that these commercial breeding facilities where dogs and cats are mass-produced in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions continue to exist, at least in part, because of the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. An effective tool to eliminate the retail market for mill-bred dogs and cats is to require pet stores to humanely source dogs and cats offered for sale."
Lober said his ordinance will "promote community awareness of the plight of animals in puppy mills and kitten factories and, in turn, will foster a more humane environment, as well as encourage consumers to adopt dogs and cats from shelters and rescue organizations, thereby saving the lives of animals while reducing the cost to the public of sheltering or euthanizing animals."
The debate will resume at Tuesday's County Commission meeting, which starts at 5 p.m. at the Brevard County Government Center, Building C, 2725 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, Viera.
Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.
His Political Spin column runs Sundays in FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Berman at 321-242-3649
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