TAMPA (FOX 13) - New pet stores could be a thing of the past in Hillsborough County if the county commission passes a proposal discussed during Wednesday's meeting.
The proposed ordinance would put an end to new stores opening up and selling cats and dogs from commercial breeders, which animal advocates have linked to puppy mills. The debate Wednesday largely focused on whether existing stores should be grandfathered in and allowed to stay in business.
"Some might believe this ordinance might not be perfect," said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who wrote the proposal, "but I think we should not forget why we are addressing this issue and why 207 jurisdictions including 48 in Florida have approved pet retail sales ordinances: it's the inhumane conditions allowed by puppy mills, including over-breeding, inbreeding, minimal to non-existent veterinary care, lack of adequate food, water, and shelter."
Dozens of animal rights advocates and representatives of the pet store industry debated the need for a grandfather clause in the proposal.
Regina Galloway, the owner of All About Puppies, kept her store closed for the day to allow any of her employees to speak at the commission meeting.
"We just feel so strongly about what we do. We're very passionate about the animals and we're family-oriented," Galloway told FOX 13 after the meeting.
Galloway said her business, which is one of three pet stores left in Hillsborough, does everything the right way and uses government-licensed breeders.
She said she feels unfairly caught up in the controversy.
"There's good and bad in everything and unfortunately everybody gets graded at the level of the lowest one and you have to prove that you're the best and I think being here 22 years we have proved that," she said. "I think we have done it right and I think we deserve to be grandfathered in. I think we have earned it."
Members of the pet store industry argued the grandfather clause in the ordinance puts too many regulations on existing pet stores that follow the rules, like limiting current owners from expanding or ever selling more pets than they sold a year ago.
Galloway said that goes too far.
"To be grandfathered in is what we wanted but they were putting a lot of stipulations in it that we cannot expand. We had to tell them how many dogs we sold and then we could not exceed that amount any year after, so they were kind of like locking us into where we could not expand or grow," she said, adding she does favor some kind of new regulation. "We want to be held to the highest standard that is fair for us to be held to."
Dr. Betsy Coville, a local veterinarian, isn't a fan of pet stores that use licensed breeders. She said government standards are minimal and she believes retail bans are the only solution.
"Even though they're saying they're licensed facilities, it does not make it something that we would think of as something appropriate for our own pets," Coville said. "It's supply and demand. We have to stop buying the puppies before they're going to stop breeding the puppies."
Sarasota County passed a similar ban last year and St. Petersburg has discussed it too.
Hillsborough commissioners will take up the discussion again next month after reviewing proposed changes to how existing business would be treated.