Much like it was about two years ago when a proposal to ban the sale of pets in Manatee County surfaced, Tuesday’s commission workshop proved to be emotional and passionate, but somewhat fruitless.
Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, acting on behalf of the Animal Services Advisory Board, resurrected the effort to, at least, get the proposal in ordinance form and push it forward to a public hearing. The effort failed, but did not die completely.
There are about 20 stores in the county that sell some form of animal, but only one that sells puppies and kittens, Petland, at 3530 53rd Ave. W.
There have been 52 municipalities and six Florida counties that have initiated similar bans, including Sarasota County, which has a lawsuit pending and has decided not to enforce its ordinance until the legal challenge is settled. Three other lawsuits have been brought against other municipalities, two of which were defeated and one is still pending.
“Our citizens asked us to come here and be at this point where we are at today,” Whitmore said. “I’m asking to bring this up in the future for an ordinance to do what these other cities have done. It’s time we do this. In 2011, we were the first county to sign a resolution for no kill. This is a hard decision for some of us, but I am respectfully requesting to go to a regular meeting with an ordinance.”
It’s about as respectful as the meeting got from that point forward as the two sides of the argument went at one another blaming the other for the overabundance of dogs currently at the shelter. Breeders blamed rescue organizations, claiming they are much less regulated than responsible breeders. Rescue organizations blamed breeders and “puppy mills” for feeding chains such as Petland.
Stephen Benecke, owner of Petland, said, “Our puppies do not contribute to the overpopulation,” noting that on his own, he invested $150,000 more into ensuring, “We are keeping our babies comfortable. We’ve also raised our buyer standards and use the same system as the Humane Society. The only difference is, we actually visit our sellers.”
Benecke is threatening a lawsuit if Manatee County initiates a ban.
Public comment was split and accusatory, but there was some underlying common ground. There was some agreement that by eliminating a licensed business, online puppy sales from potentially unregulated breeders would rise. Both sides also appeared to agree that everyone wanted the best solution possible to reduce the overpopulation.
Taylor Beneke summed up the division when she noted, “Everyone in this room cares about animals, but not everyone in this room cares for animals.”
Commissioner Betsy Benac said it was too risky moving forward in light of potential legal costs, but more importantly, “I haven’t heard anything that Petland stopping sales would make a difference. It won’t solve the problem, it will just put a business out of business.”
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh agreed, saying attacking a business without documented evidence of bad behavior is not something she would support.
“Everyone sues us for everything,” Whitmore countered. “We have to take a stand somewhere. This touches the nerve of a lot of our citizens and we need to be strong and get it to a meeting for our citizens where we can at least get more information.”
Whitmore could not get a consensus to move an ordinance forward, but commissioners agreed to wait to see what happens in the Sarasota legal battle before making a final determination.
In the meantime, the commission directed the Animal Services Advisory Board to schedule meetings with those in opposition to work out their differences and bring unified ideas back to the commission to avoid another future public battle.