Fueled by lobbying and at least $160,000 in campaign contributions from a major pet retailer, Florida lawmakers could wipe off the books dozens of local laws that ban the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores. high volume “puppy mills”.
Animal welfare groups say the bills — which establish regulations for animal care, documentation and socialization — are largely unenforceable since most animals come from out of state.
But one supporter of the rules, a Petland franchisee in South Florida, argued the proposal brought much-needed standards to the industry and would raise the bar statewide for the sale of pets.
If approved by the Florida Legislature in the coming months, the changes would remove about 60 local ordinances, including those passed by Lake and Seminole counties, and others by Oviedo and Sanford.
The Florida House and Senate bills have been introduced by Miami Republican Rep. Bryan Avila and Sen. Manny Diaz – and have yet to have a scheduled hearing, but welfare groups promise to kill the bill.
“As the public has been better educated on the source of these puppies…and now puppy retail stores have become very aggressive going state to state and asking state legislators to preempt” said Jennifer Hobgood, lobbyist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “So it’s 12 pages of window dressing with the darker reality hidden in the final lines of the bill.”
Avila’s 13-page bill instructs stores to sell animals acquired from qualified or hobby breeders, animal shelters and sanctuaries, and other pet stores or brokers. It also requires frequent veterinary visits to stores, as well as a statement from an animal doctor stating its state of health, as well as living conditions requirements.
In 2018 and 2019, lawmakers attempted to achieve preemption by tabling it as amendments to larger bills, but these failed. Also in recent years, similar packages have been considered in states like Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Luis Marquez, who owns six Florida Petland locations, is a lead backer of the initiative and maintains statewide legislation would provide consistent rules for an industry he said he was trying to improve, buying his dogs from responsible breeders whom he likens to “pet hotels”. .”
In Florida, lawmakers have received at least $160,000 in campaign contributions from Petland and Marquez franchises since 2018, records show. The money went to both parties, as well as groups affiliated with Gov. Ron DeSantis, future Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson and other Tallahassee power brokers.
“I think care, socialization and provision are three huge things, which is why this bill is so important,” said Marquez, of Miami. “With something so important, instead of having activists jumping from town to town and county to county…with the importance that dogs have become in our lives, I think it’s something that the state and I think the federal government should have regulations.”
When Marquez mentions activists, he is referring to Michele Lazarow, City of Hallandale Beach Commissioner and Chair of the Animal Defense Coalition, who is the architect of dozens of local ordinances that have taken hold across the state.
The two fought in court — Marquez has since filed a dismissed lawsuit against her, after she called him the “worst person in the world” on Facebook — and in government halls across the state. She offers a darker view of the origin of pets and the lack of effectiveness she believes the legislation would have.
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She also pushed back on Marquez’s claims that he sources puppies from quality breeders and said she believes the proposal cannot be enforced because some breeders are from outside Florida.
“It sounds great on paper…but there’s no way to enforce something like that,” Lazarow said. “Responsible breeders don’t sell to stores, period.”
Lazarow also pointed to recent outbreaks of diarrheal bacteria Campylobacter jejuni, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked to contact with puppies and nearly half of cases in Petland, The Washington Post reported. The CDC has found at least 30 cases of the bacteria in 13 states — including Florida — with a dozen cases linked to Petland. Five of them were chain employees.
“Before, dogs used to get sick and now dogs make people sick,” Lazarow said. “It’s not just about sick puppies, it’s now a public health and safety issue.”
The bill’s sponsors, Avila and Diaz, could not be reached for comment.
Jason Garcia of Sentinel staff contributed.
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