Orange County Commission votes to ban retail sale of puppies, kittens and rabbits

Following a heated meeting that saw over 50 people offering public comments, the Orange County Commission voted to ban stores that sell puppies, kittens and rabbits.

The meeting room was evenly split between pro-pet store speakers (largely the employees of local stores like Petland and Breeder's Pick) and those who believed the practice of selling animals retail encourages the proliferation of unsanitary breeding mills. The opposition was rather easy to spot, wearing hi-vis yellow T-shirts that said "Vote Yes for Puppies."

Local representatives of shelters and rescues spoke on the way that retail sales flow downriver to them. Cathy Houde of Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando and Gwen Keleman of Happy Trails Animal Rescue both stressed the glut of shelter animals in the area.

“There are currently over 2,000 animals available for adoption in Central Florida,” Keleman told the council.

“I find litters of kittens ... every week,” added Houde. “We don’t need more.”

Frank Lopez, owner of local pet store Breeder's Pick, resented the implication that his stores associated with disreputable breeders.

"Never have and never will," he told the council. "All we do is make families happy."

Lopez added that banning retail sales would only lead to a proliferation of illegal breeders with no public face.

"Right now, there’s seven stores to worry about," he said. "Seven stores you might be able to police. Backyard breeders by the thousands, you’re not going to be able to police that."

Petland's national public affairs director, Elizabeth Kunzelman, appeared at the meeting and agreed with that line of reasoning.

"It doesn’t make sense to pass an ordinance that would eliminate regulatory oversight," she said.

Eric Davies, who owns several local Petland stores along with his wife, Trevor, said that the council was pointing their power at the wrong target.

"Our council is going after the wrong problem," Davis said. "The problem centers on bad breeders."

People who claimed to be former employees and customers of Petland's Waterford Lakes location shared horror stories about dogs with the deadly parvovirus and a "freezer full of dead puppies" in the back of the store.

In addition, owners of several pet stores that do not sell dogs, cats or rabbits commented in support of a ban. Cara Allen of Florida-founded and Orlando-based chain Woof Gang Bakery noted that it was entirely possible to run a successful pet store without selling animals.

"The practice of breeding and selling puppy mill dogs is outdated, controversial and bad business." Allen said. "Good pet stores do not sell puppies, and reputable breeders do not sell to stores."

The ordinance passed by a single vote, that of District 4 commissioner Maribel Gomez Cordero. Cordero agonized over the decision, though she would not clarify her connection to the stores that would need to adapt or close. One of the council members offered that "workforce training" was available for "your cousins" before being shouted down by other council members. Ultimately, Cordero voted in favor of the change.

The new ordinance gives Orange County stores one year to phase out the sale of puppies, kittens and rabbits, after which they will be penalized if they are selling animals.

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