Arroyo withdraws no-kill shelter ordinance, citing a halt on retail animal sales as his real focus

City attorney and city manager point to Arroyo’s previous comments about shelters, instead of stores

Commissioner Erik Arroyo. File image

In May, Sarasota City Commissioner Erik Arroyo asked his colleagues for their support to direct City Attorney Robert Fournier to draft a new ordinance that would allow only no-kill animal shelters within the city.

However, subsequent to the first reading of the ordinance — in early July — the commissioners received public comments pointing to concerns about the “unintended consequences” of such facilities.

Then, two weeks later, they decided to delay the second and final reading of the ordinance so Fournier could look into the issues that had been raised.

Among those concerns were the fact that no-kill shelters have been accused of “warehousing” animals, since their policies are not to euthanize them.

Commissioner Debbie Trice pointed out on July 17 that an email she had received from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advocated for “socially conscious shelters,” which make “every healthy and safe animal available for adoption” and ensure “that every unwanted or homeless animal has a safe place to go for shelter and care, among other provisions.”

This week, Arroyo formally withdrew the proposed ordinance from consideration, telling his colleagues on Nov. 6 that his real concern is stopping retail sales of animals.

During his May 1 presentation, Arroyo noted that the issue of no-kill shelters “touches on the hearts of many in our community … First and foremost,” he added, “the core principle of animal welfare should be guiding our decision making.”

Arroyo then pointed out that day, “Animals, like humans, are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain, fear, suffering. It is our moral obligation to be sure they are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.”

By banning shelters where animals can be put down, he continued, the commissioners would be “taking a stand for compassion.”

He further noted, “There’s been rumblings of some of these businesses coming back to Sarasota, especially as some of the other ones are going out of business.”

During the Nov. 6 discussion, Arroyo acknowledged the information from PETA, but he said, “We didn’t hear from … the people who turned this into a profit-, money-making opportunity.” He continued, “It’s not targeting people who care about animals, worrying about the best interest of our community. We’re targeting the individuals [who have the stance that] if you don’t sell within 60 days, you’re out of here.”

Fournier reminded Arroyo of the definition of an animal shelter in the proposed ordinance: “an establishment that provides a temporary home for dogs, cats and other animals that are offered for adoption. An animal shelter is also a place where animals that have been mistreated , or are lost, abandoned, or not wanted can be properly taken care of and may include a kennel.”

“We’re not talking about sales,” Fournier told Arroyo. “We’re talking about shelters, the way the ordinance was drafted. … Sale is different.”

Arroyo replied, “Well, my first presentation … was to target the sale of animals.”

“It was about no-kill shelters,” Fournier pointed out.

Sarasota City Manager Marlon Brown. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Then City Manager Marlon Brown noted that many municipalities and counties have ordinances that prohibit the retail sales of animals; Sarasota County is among them. (Its ordinance was approved in January 2016.)

“That is something different,” Brown continued. “If you want us to consider that,” he said, staff could research whether it would be possible for the city to opt into the county ordinance.

“That was the intent,” Arroyo told Brown: to target the sales.

Brown also reminded Arroyo that his May presentation was on no-kill shelters.

Then Fournier pointed out that a national movement has been focused on persuading local governments to adopt no-kill shelter policies. “But that is separate [from the sale issue].”

Arroyo replied that his intent was to “target the ‘puppy mills.’ ”

“I hate those things,” Mayor Kyle Battie said.

When Brown asked whether Arroyo wanted staff to undertake research into the puppy mill issue and bring some recommendations back to the commissioners, Arroyo told him, “Yes.”

Fournier indicated that he would look into the county ordinance and put an item about that on a future agenda.

Delving into the policy issues

At the outset of the Nov. 6 discussion, Fournier referenced the Oct. 13 memo he had provided to the commissioners, as a follow-up to the July 17 continuation of the second reading of the no-kill shelter ordinance.

In that memo, Fournier wrote, “PETA is dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals. PETA is more focused on exposing situations where animals are suffering in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade and in the entertainment industry than focused on saving the lives of at least 90% of all pets that are brought to animal shelters.”

He continued, “PETA does not support ‘no-kill’ policies for shelters. However, since it is reasonably certain that no organization that supports animal welfare that opposes no-kill policies is going to say that they are in favor of ‘kill shelters,’ opponents of no-kill’ shelters prefer to say that they favor what is called ‘socially conscious sheltering.’ Socially conscious sheltering supports sheltering and adoption efforts while focusing on the quality of the animal’s life when making euthanasia decisions. According to PETA, compassionate euthanasia is ‘an act of kindness for animals who are suffering without hope of recovery or are unadoptable for other reasons.’ ”

Fournier continued, “It would not be a productive endeavor to try to devise the ‘perfect nirvana’ ordinance that combines the ‘no-kill’ approach with the ‘socially conscious sheltering’ approach because the two are mutually exclusive.”

If the City Commission desired to adopt a ‘socially conscious sheltering’ ordinance, Fournier also explained, “that cannot be accomplished by revising [the no-kill shelter ordinance].” Moreover, he wrote, “It seems to me that a ‘socially conscious sheltering’ ordinance would be harder to draft than a ‘no-kill’ ordinance because it is harder to draw a bright line such as the 90 percent survival standard.”

During his Nov. 6 remarks at the outset of the hearing, Fournier told the commissioners, “You have to make a determination upfront” about whether to proceed with a no-kill shelter ordinance or whether to take a different approach.

He also talked about having reviewed information on the website of The Humane Society of Sarasota County, noting that the website calls that organization the county’s “premier no-kill shelter.” However, he pointed out, in reading more of the details on the website, he found it to say, as well, that no adoptable pet ever is euthanized. Therefore, he added, advocates of no-kill shelters might dispute that the Humane Society’s facility is a no-kill shelter.

This is an image of part of the website of The Humane Society of Sarasota County.

Commissioner Debbie Trice added that she had learned from the website that the organization “will not accept every pet” people bring to the facility. A person has to fill out forms, she indicated, which ask for details about the animal’s personality.

Moreover, she continued, “If they don’t have room,” Trice said, “they turn you away.”

Information about the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Animal Services Shelter makes it clear, Trice added, that it will euthanize animals that are not adopted.

This is a section of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office’s Animal Services website.

Arroyo then talked about the fact that Fournier had indicated that “it would be significantly more difficult to craft an ordinance to even address the socially conscious sheltering just because of how much more complex it is, which I think lends itself to more manipulation of numbers. I think we as a city prioritize the lives of animals,” he continued, “and we should pass this ordinance on second reading …”

At that point, Vice Mayor Liz Alpert told her colleagues, “I think I’m going to have to come down on the side of unintended consequences of having a no-kill shelter …”

She preferred a “socially conscious” shelter policy, Alpert added, but she acknowledged Fournier’s concerns about crafting such a document.

Therefore, she said, “I think we should leave things as they are.”