Stores selling dogs and cats have until Jan. 27, 2017 to come into compliance with the new regulations; further discussion planned on exemptions for breeders of purebred animals
It was almost exactly 11 hours after Sarasota County Commission Chair Al Maio opened the Jan. 27 regular meeting that the board voted 3-2 to ban the sale of dogs and cats at retail stores in the county, the culmination of a process that speakers pointed out began about four years ago.
Commissioners Christine Robinson and Carolyn Mason were in the minority. Robinson voiced dissatisfaction over the lack of staff outreach to purebred dog breeders in the crafting of the draft ordinance, and she expressed concern about unintended consequences of the new law on those breeders.
Mason pointed out that she felt the board should have been willing to explore an alternative ordinance that would have included tighter regulation of stores selling pets.
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo made the motion to approve the new ordinance with the inclusion of alternate language proffered by Karen Ankerstar, a county resident who helped initiate the effort that concluded this week. That wording defines a hobby breeder as “a person that barters, offers for sale, displays for sale, or sells, Cats, Dogs, or both, only from the premises on which they were bred and reared, and is in compliance with the [county’s Zoning Code].”
Vice Chair Charles Hines suggested a tweak of that language to change “bred and reared” to “bred or reared,” which Caragiulo and Maio accepted in approving the motion.
As for Brad Parker, who testified that he bought Petland Sarasota about a year ago, Caragiulo added, “I don’t know what to say for someone who’s purchased a business in this jurisdiction, given that this discussion was going on.”
The law gives businesses that are selling animals a year to come into compliance. Testimony offered during the public hearing indicated that Petland Sarasota is the only store affected by the new ordinance.
“I can honestly tell you I don’t recall spending more time on an issue,” Caragiulo pointed out. After all the debate, he continued, “This is about the welfare of the animals.”
Although Robinson protested that breeders would be adversely affected the action — especially those, including one veterinarian, who sell animals at their places of business — Hines told her he had not heard anyone object to the fact that the proposed ordinance would eliminate such arrangements. “The public can go [to a breeder’s home] and see where the animal’s raised … and make their own decision” about purchasing the pet, he said.
Adding in the revised section about hobby breeders “doesn’t solve a whole plethora of problems,” Robinson asserted, noting that those who breed purebred animals have to deal with an array of unusual circumstances, such as having female dogs inseminated out-of-state. “We have transactions between these breeders all over the country,” she noted.
“I’m sorry,” Hines told her. “You can come to the vet and see the pictures of the dog, and the vet can say, ‘Hey, I have some dogs for sale.’ … That’s just a difference of opinion.”
Caragiulo said he understood Robinson’s concerns, but “now we’re getting into nuances of where you are when you discuss if you’re going to buy a dog.”
The board then unanimously approved a second motion, made by Hines, to direct staff to immediately begin outreach to the various hobby and home-based breeders and kennels throughout the region to address the implications of the new regulations on their businesses. The motion also called for staff to bring the findings back to the commission for a full discussion.
“I hope that this action amends the very hard feelings” of the breeders in the community, Robinson said.
“An apology is in order, no question about it,” Caragiulo responded.
In the beginning …
At 9:07 a.m. on Jan. 27, according to The Sarasota News Leader’s time-keeping, Maio told the audience of about 120 people that he had 100 cards from those wishing to address the board. “This will take most of the day,” he added: “Five minutes times 100 cards is 500 minutes.”
Under the rules for commission proceedings, every speaker during a public hearing is allowed five minutes. More than 90 of those who filled out cards took their turns at the podium on Jan. 27.
After a few board questions for Zoning Administrator Donna Thompson, and comments from two county residents on a completely unrelated topic — the Phillippi Creek watershed —during the Open to the Public agenda item, Maio announced at 9:20, “OK, here we go.”
Tom Polk, director of the Planning and Development Services Department, and Thompson explained the background that led to that day’s public hearing. Thompson also noted that the draft ordinance eliminated any reference to sales of rabbits, because staff research subsequent to the last public hearing on a proposed retail pet sales ordinance — held Sept. 21 — indicated that that was not an issue of concern in the county.
At 10:12 a.m., the first speaker, Patti Yenish of North Venice, began her remarks during the public hearing. Yenish related a story about an impromptu decision to purchase a Yorkshire Terrier from Petland Sarasota. “Our puppy was very sick,” she told the board, adding that after investigating its provenance, she learned from Petland that it had come from what she called a “puppy mill” in Iowa, though Petland staff disputed that the farm where the terrier was bred was such a facility.
Yenish’s story about trying to save her pet — while incurring more than $4,000 in veterinary bills — also proved to be the first of many accusing Petland of selling animals that had been bred in substandard conditions, leading to the dogs having serious illnesses when they went home with new owners.
About 15 of the people who addressed the board prior to its 30-minute lunch break pleaded for passage of the ordinance.
Prompting one of the few lighter moments of the day, Jono Miller of Sarasota made his way to the podium with a cake.
Pointing out, “I am not an expert on puppy mills,” Miller said he is a regular customer of Publix grocery stores, having shopped in them for 46 years. He showed the board his cake, which he dubbed “Shadow” because of the name on the packaging, explaining that people can buy cakes two ways at Publix. First, they can look through a laminated booklet, choose a style and “contract directly” with the store for a purchase. “If no one orders [a particular style] of cake for 10 years, [the store] won’t produce a single one of those cakes,” he said.
The second alternative is to stop at the cooler in the Bakery Department, where varieties have been “just produced in the hope that someone will walk through and buy them. Let me tell you, these cakes reach out to people.”
A former Publix employee told him that any cooler cakes remaining after their sell-by dates are given to The Salvation Army, “which probably is great for Marie Antoinette,” Miller added.
“The point I’m trying to make here,” he continued, “is that there’s a real difference here between people going to buy something deliberately, knowing what their needs are … and … an impulse buy based on really seductive and appealing presentations of the product involved that are produced speculatively.”
“I just think we really need to think carefully about a situation where we’re dealing not with homes that are built speculatively or cakes that are baked speculatively, but living animals,” he said. “I think there’s a big difference.”
He left the cake with the clerks to the County Commission.
The second wave
The second speaker after the board resumed the hearing 12:30 p.m. was Brad Parker, owner of Petland Sarasota. He told the board, “We do not buy from substandard breeders.” Shutting down Petland, he said, would merely drive more people to the Internet, where disreputable breeders offer animals for sale.
Parker pointed out that 20,000 people walk through his store each month; 4,000 of them, on average, purchase an animal. His overall sales are up 50 percent from those recorded by the previous owner, he pointed out, “That is just the community speaking with their wallets.”
He also talked of his numerous trips to the farms of breeders from whom he purchases puppies, to ensure the animals are brought up in good environments.
If the ordinance is approved, he continued, “I think it would be extremely hard for me to keep the business in business.”
In response to a question from Caragiulo, Parker said he deals primarily with brokers instead of directly with breeders.
Almost 50 people followed Parker to the podium, speaking against the ordinance. A number identified themselves as Petland franchisees from other cities. Yet more were breeders from the Midwest who supply puppies to Petland.
Late in the day, other Sarasota residents came forward to speak in favor of the ordinance.
Additionally, Amy Jesse, public policy coordinator of the Humane Society of the United States, appeared before the commissioners, telling them that responsible breeders do not sell to pet stores or on the Internet; nor do they ship their animals across the country to be sold to people the breeders never have met.
Among the last group of speakers was Jean Peelen, vice chair of the Holmes Beach City Commission, who supported the passage of the ordinance. Referring to the pro-Petland contingent, she told the board, “This time you got the ‘full-tilt boogie’ treatment.”
Interspersed among those who addressed the County Commission were breeders, a number of whom voiced anger that they had not had much warning about the matter coming up for a vote that day and expressing worry about how they would be affected if the ordinance passed.
During the board’s discussion prior to its votes, Chair Maio asked staff, “We can be reasonably assured that … any hobby breeder … will not have [county] Code Enforcement officers swooping down on them tomorrow morning?”
County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh pointed to the language in the draft calling for the one-year period before existing retail businesses would have to stop selling animals. He added that all of the breeder transactions already occurring in the county outside commercial establishments “are unaffected by the new legislation if it’s adopted.”