MANATEE -- Commissioner Carol Whitmore wants to prohibit pet stores from getting their animals from puppy mills.
"A business model we want in our county is not to support dogs that have to be sold from puppy mills," Whitmore said. "Manatee County has tried to always be a little bit ahead for the last five or six years on animal issues. This has been very near and dear to many hearts."
Whitmore has asked commissioners to consider enacting a puppy retail ordinance for Manatee County. Similar ordinances in other localities restrict pet stores to selling animals from shelters, rescue groups, humane societies and hobby breeders.
The commission will discuss adopting such an ordinance during a work session Sept. 15.
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The County Attorney's Office is working on a written report for the commission, which will summarize the key provisions in the federal cases upholding other jurisdictions' ordinances, "show where there are differences between them and the board members will then be able to provide feedback as to what they may like, and not like," according to an email sent from Chief Assistant County Attorney Robert Eschenfelder to Whitmore.
While the rescue and animal community has been discussing a ban for the last few years, Whitmore said they've been waiting to see the results of a June case in Broward County where a federal judge rejected a pet shop owner's claim that the city of Sunrise's ban on the sale of commercially bred puppies and kittens was unconstitutional.
"Once they lost that challenge, that kind of set precedent," Whitmore said.
As of Wednesday, there are 78 localities -- cities and counties -- in the United States that have passed ordinances banning the sale of commercially bred puppies and kittens, according to Melanie Kahn, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills campaign for the Humane Society of the United States.
"Pet stores have tried to challenge these laws and have all been unsuccessful across the board," Kahn said. "(Localities) also have the cover now of court cases being resolved in favor of the cities that are passing these ordinances."
In Manatee County, the ordinance would be preventative, Whitmore said, adding that to her knowledge one pet store in Manatee County gets its animals from puppy mills.
"We have north, east and west county that we are approving development with commercial," Whitmore said. "This is very important to most animal owners."
A 2009 investigation into Petland stores by the Humane Society of the United States found that the country's largest chain of puppy-selling pet stores is also the nation's largest retail supporter of puppy mills, according to the animal protection organization's website.
The investigation found the Petland at 3530 53rd Ave. W., Bradenton, received shipments from at least five puppy mills across the country that have citations for small cages, underage puppies, incorrect medications, sick puppies, improper veterinary oversight and buying from unlicensed breeders.
However, Petland Bradenton co-owner Stephen Benecke said the claims that they get their animals from puppy mills is false.
"We don't get puppies from puppy mills whatsoever," Benecke said Wednesday. "We get ours all from commercial and licensed breeders."
Benecke said most of the breeders Petland uses are out of state.
"With us dealing with a small network of breeders because we want to deal with ones that are (U.S. Department of Agriculture)-licensed, we have to look outside the state," he said. "We only purchase from USDA-inspected and licensed breeders."
Petland corporate inspects hundreds of breeders to ensure they are licensed and inspected, Benecke said.
"We are very strictly supervised on who we purchase from," he said.
When asked whether he would support an anti-puppy-mill ordinance in Manatee County, Benecke said if "it's going to affect and close our business down, of course not," then reiterated that they don't buy from puppy mills.
"They are telling me I am doing something wrong, which I am not, and punishing me for doing something wrong, which I am not," he said. "Petland is the store that goes above and beyond that and makes sure we have the healthiest puppies available. We follow the law."
Since the Manatee commission can't take action at a work session, the commission would have to approve a motion during a regular meeting to direct the County Attorney's Office to proceed with the drafting of an ordinance.
Of the localities that have passed an ordinance banning the sale of commercially-bred puppies and kittens, Kahn said it not only cracks down on puppy mills, but it drives people to different places to get pets.
"It has an equal effect on homeless pet overpopulation in these localities," Kahn said, adding that euthanasia rates in the localities have significantly dropped.
"It's not only about taking a stand on puppy mills but also taking a stand against euthanizing homeless and adoptable animals. ...It is making people consider adoption from a rescue or shelter."
The elimination of the sale of puppies from puppy mills decreases the likelihood dogs will end up in the shelter as some people make impulse purchases of puppies at pet stores that later end up in the county shelter, Kahn said.
"It really is a win-win," she said.
In Florida, more than 35 local ordinances are in effect.
"Florida is one of the states leading the nation by cracking down on puppy mills by passing local ordinances," she said. "Florida has enough homeless animals that are healthy and adoptable. There is no reason to be shipping in puppies from other states in this country."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.