Orange County’s ban on retail pet sales, set to take effect next month, appears to have survived legislative and legal challenges to block it — so far.
The Florida Pet Protection Act, (SB 994), which sought to preempt local laws like the ban adopted 4-3 last summer by Orange County commissioners, died in the Florida Senate’s Community Affairs committee in March.
Another bill, the Local Business Protection Act, (SB620), which would allow businesses to sue governments for revenue lost as a result of a new local regulation, was passed by the Florida Legislature, but has not been submitted to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Kate MacFall, Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said the pending legislation, even if signed into law by the governor, won’t affect Orange County’s imminent ban or other ordinances on the books that prohibit retail sales of puppies and kittens.
Osceola, Lake and Seminole counties also have banned retail pet sales.
Orange County Attorney Jeff Newton said the bill awaiting the governor’s signature couldn’t be used by pet stores to sue for damages as the county’s ban predated it, enacted in June 2021 with a delayed effective date to give retailers a year to prepare for the change .
Commissioners voted to enact the ban after fierce debate in marathon meetings at which animal-welfare advocates alleged that local retail pet stores enable “puppy mills,” inhumane, high-volume dog-breeding facilities that churn out puppies for profit.
The ordinance, effective June 22, forbids the sale of “any dog, cat or rabbit.” A violation is punishable by a fine up to $500 per animal, per day.
Some ex-customers complained about exorbitant puppy prices and misleading information about a dog’s breed and health.
But store owners and employees countered the criticism with tales of helping customers find forever furry friends.
McFall emailed Orange County commissioners this week, thanking them for the hard-fought ban and sending the board excerpts from the “Horrible Hundred 2022,″ the humane group’s new listing of “problem puppy breeders and dealers” in the United States.
Citing public records, McFall noted eight breeders on the list supplied puppies to local pet shops during the past two years.
Attorney Amber Davis, representing Petland East, Petland South and Breeder’s Pick, in court filings has argued the “great majority” of the shops’ revenues come from sales of puppies and kittens, not sales of food, chew toys and other pet supplies.
She contends the ban will interfere unlawfully with existing contracts. Davis will argue to a judge Monday that the ban is unconstitutional and will put the stores out of business.
“If the pet ban is enforced, plaintiffs will be rendered severely unprofitable and forced to close,” Davis wrote. “The plaintiffs have contracts with their landlords, franchisor and customers, all of which require the plaintiffs to operate a pet store and sell dogs and cats as well as meet certain obligations with respect to the sale of those pets.”
Davis argued state law requires pet dealers to warranty pets they sell, which requires a barking sales inventory.
Trevor Elizabeth Davies, who has co-owned Petland South Orlando, 3920 S. Semoran Blvd., with her husband Eric for 25 years, said about 73% of the store’s revenue comes from animal sales. “We’re not hopeful that we could survive without puppies,” she said.
Davies said the mom-and-pop shop, which has 39 employees, can’t compete head-to-head on the Pricing of pet supplies with discount giants Walmart, Chewy.com and Amazon, an option sales-ban advocates often suggest for stores forced to stop selling pups.
“We’re not saying there shouldn’t be any regulations and we should just do whatever we want to,” Davies said. “The way I operate my store, if a customer has a problem, I go way above and beyond what is required. I help people until things are better.”
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Meanwhile, Diane Summers, director of Orange County Animal Services, said she believes the sales ban will survive.
“All the municipalities that have enacted similar bans, when challenged, they’ve held up,” she said. “I hope we’re no exceptions.”
Wednesday morning, the county shelter housed 191 dogs, a population requiring some animals to be housed three to a pen.
“I would say we do have a pet overpopulation problem in this community witnessed by the fact we’re routinely housing nearly 200 dogs here,” Summers said. “To think some pet stores are importing animals from the Midwest when we have so many really amazing dogs here looking for a chance at a home is heartbreaking.”
If the ban continues, only Chews A Puppy in Ocoee will be permitted to sell puppies and kittens in the region.
Ocoee City commissioners voted in October to opt out of the county ban and created a monopoly for Chews A Puppy.