Melbourne resident Bill Jacobson, owner of Puppies Plus in the Melbourne Square Mall, looks to the near future – and sees himself moving to South America.
That’s because he says a new Pet Retail Ordinance, which the Brevard County Commission is scheduled to consider March 26 on final reading, will surely put him out of his 21-year business.
“If this thing passes, Bryan Lober will probably feel like a hero,” he said last week. “But the county will be left with (pet sources) they can’t regulate.”
Lober, vice chair of the commission, seeks to prevent pet stores like Puppies Plus from getting their animals from puppy mills – those mass breeders found to keep animals in unhealthy conditions – and make them instead get pets from adoption agencies like animal shelters or rescue groups.
Local governments throughout the state of Florida, including Indian River and Hillsborough counties, have been enacting ordinances in recent months barring local pet stores from dealing with puppy mills.
Lober, of Rockledge, first proposed an ordinance based on adoptions Jan. 8, but audience protests prompted him to work with Sheriff Wayne Ivey and local rescue groups on a new version more people could support.
He returned March 12 with the new version. Its biggest change would allow “hobby breeders” to breed up to 48 pups per year, up from January’s proposal of 20.
The ordinance defines hobby breeders as those who permit prospective customers to see the conditions in which their dogs or cats are raised.
Chair Kristine Isnardi, of Palm Bay, and Commissioner Rita Pritchett, of Titusville, supported Lober’s new version in a 3-0 vote, sending it to the March 26 meeting for final action. Commissioners Curt Smith, of Melbourne, and John Tobia, of Grant-Valkaria, were absent.
One of Jacobson’s complaints, meanwhile, was a proposal that wasn’t dropped – that pet store owners personally inspect the conditions of their breeders’ animals, at least once a year, to make sure they were clean and safe.
Jacobson, who works through the broker Choice Puppies, of Goodman, Mo., has said the breeders are spread throughout several states, making it financially impossible for him to visit them all.
At one point in the meeting, Lober used the overhead projector to dissect and rebut numerous statements Jacobson had made in emails.
For example, Lober showed, Jacobson had said Puppies Plus was “approved and sanctioned” by the American Kennel Club for criteria like cleanliness and credible veterinarian relationships.
However, Lober added, the AKC later emailed him to state that it “does not license, endorse or recommend any breeders, kennels or pet stores.”
As intended, the ordinance would prevent pet stores from dealing with puppy mills, which tend to rack up pages of health- or safety-related citations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But Lober and Pritchett differed on whether pet stores should be able to buy animals from local hobby breeders in addition to rescue groups.
“If this doesn’t protect the hobby breeders, I won’t support it,” Pritchett said.
She upheld the rights of local breeders to sell to whom they chose.
But Lober said that’s not an issue because his research didn’t turn up a single hobby breeder who sold to any pet stores. Instead, they sell directly to the customer.
Questions also arose regarding one clause in the ordinance that would make hobby breeders’ sales to pet stores contingent on compliance with local requirements “put in place by the (County Commission), the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office or any other entity lawfully entitled to regulate such activity.”
“We have no problem as long as (enforcement) is doable,” Ivey said.
But Jenna Jensen, with the Humane Society of the United States, cautioned that Ivey’s deputies wouldn’t have jurisdiction to enforce county ordinances outside Brevard.
“I don’t think that’s enforceable,” she said. “And I don’t see a police or sheriff’s officer traveling to Wisconsin to look at a breeder – not to mention someone wanting to make a profit.”
Isnardi, meanwhile, said one aspect often lost in discussions is that animals aren’t just products or merchandise.
“These are living, breathing creatures who, unlike us, don’t have a voice,” she said.