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To Crack Down on Puppy Mills, Broward Might Ban All Pet-Store Sales

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Last December, when Deerfield Beach tried to crack down on "puppy mills" — commercial dog-breeding facilities that churn out animals with no regard for their welfare — a rash of people complained. The ordinance banned pet stores from selling any "commercially bred" dogs or cats, and Petland, a national chain with four stores in Broward, including one in Deerfield, said the measure would put at least 25 people out of work. But animal-rights activists were ecstatic, and after a two-hour debate to overturn the ban, the ordinance stood. Petland spokesperson Elizabeth Kunzelman now says the Petland in Deerfield will be closing "within the week."

Now, an even bigger fight is brewing. To crack down on puppy-mill sales, the Broward County Commission today will consider banning dog or cat sales from any "commercial establishment" that isn't an animal shelter, rescue organization, or home breeder. That, in essence, means a ban on pet-store sales throughout the county.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals defines puppy mills as "large-scale commercial dog breeding facility where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs." Dogs are usually housed in overcrowded, dirty pens and bred with little to no regard for their genetic welfare. Offspring are sometimes bred with their parents, and "puppy mill" dogs can have scores of health problems. Pet stores, especially lower-priced ones, are often accused of stocking their cages using puppy mills.

In addition to banning in-store sales, the bill would force breeders and sellers to undergo routine state inspections. The groups would also need to maintain "Certificates of Source," which list a breeder's name and address, for every dog or cat for sale.

Kunzelman, however, says her chain already takes great pains to avoid buying from puppy mills. "We only buy from USDA-licensed breeders," she says. "There are 10,000 breeders in the U.S., but only about 1,600 are licensed by the USDA." Banning commercial sales, she claims, would "encourage people to buy from sources that are unregulated," like online shops.

"Number one, we think puppy mills are horrific," she said. "In cities that offer tighter restrictions, we're all for it." This bill, though, she said, "will affect lots of people who've put their lives into owning a pet store."

Petland was sued in 2009 for allegedly selling puppy-mill dogs, but the suit was dismissed.

Meredith Bruder, who runs the animal-rights advocacy group Pets' Broward, says she's "all for" the ban.

"If all you need is an inspection from the USDA, that's not enough," she said. A lot of mills, she said, maintain "front" locations that look clean to investigators, while most of the breeding is done at secondary locations. "I fell into that trap once," she said. "You think everything's clean, but then I heard that the girl I bought my dog from got busted for having a secondary place."

She added: "The only way you’re going to shut down these people is to stop anyone from buying from them."

Calls to County Commission representatives were not returned.

The bill will be read at the commission's 10 a.m. regular meeting. If it advances, it will then be given a public hearing on April 26.

Here's a post from Hallandale Beach Commissioner and animal-rights activist Michele Lazarow:

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