Manatee County Commission declines to ban retail pet sales

Read the original article by Dale White at here.

After hearing arguments over a potential ban on retail pet sales, most members of the Manatee County Commission said Tuesday they do not want to pursue the idea — at least for now.

At the request of the county’s Animal Services Advisory Board, Commissioner Carol Whitmore resurrected what had become a dormant conversation a few years ago.

Yet representatives for Petland, the only store in the county selling dogs and cats, argued that their franchise is being unfairly targeted by animal rights advocates. They stressed that any ordinance preventing them from selling pets would not affect breeders and animal rescue groups.

Whitmore suggested other commissioners consider the matter again after litigation between Sarasota County and a Petland store in its jurisdiction gets resolved. Sarasota County adopted a ban about two years ago.

Stephen Benecke, owner of the Petland franchise on 53rd Avenue West in Bradenton, called “completely false” allegations by activists that the chain acquires pets from disreputable breeders known as puppy mills.

“Puppy mills” is a term used for breeders who raise animals in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.

Benecke said Petland acquires animals from breeders licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Brian Winslow, a Petland executive, told commissioners a ban on pet sales by responsible retailers will only drive more sales to unregulated breeders.

Susan Smith, president of the Florida Association of Kennel Clubs, said Florida’s “pet lemon law” already protects consumers. “Enforce what is already on the books,” Smith said.

Judy Seltrecht, president of the Manatee Kennel Club, said that an ordinance adopted in Hillsborough County “grandfathered in” existing retailers and did not penalize “legitimate businesses.”

“I know for a fact these dogs are from puppy mills,” Marilyn Weaver, executive director of the League of Humane Voters, said of pet retailers. She said the USDA “hardly ever” inspects the breeders it licenses.

Gerald Thomas, a member of the county’s Animal Services Advisory Board, compared licensed breeders to licensed vehicle drivers. Just because a driver has a license does not mean he or she obeys traffic laws, Thomas said.

Thomas said the advisory board has no intention of recommending an ordinance that adversely affects “reputable breeders.”

Several residents noted that other pet stores across the county stay in business by selling pet food and supplies rather than animals.

Commissioners Betsy Benac and Vanessa Baugh said activists calling for the ban are not coming forward with any proof that Petland sells animals from disreputable breeders.

Commissioners Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Robin DiSabatino urged Petland and its critics to possibly work out a compromise and return with a proposed ordinance that imposes standards on retail pet sales as well as breeders and rescue organizations — without an outright ban.

“Let’s make Manatee County the safest county we can for our animals,” Trace said.

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