Pet activists clashed with the one local puppy retailer at the Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 16 as the council considered a ban on retail sales of puppies and kittens.
A public hearing was held on the first reading of the measure, which passed without opposition. Much of the council’s discussion was on how long until the measure took effect.
The end can’t come soon enough for some on the council, and members of the public who spoke emotionally and passionately, some through tear-filled words.
The context of the measure, as explained by Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton, is that in 2016, Palm Beach County added new regulations for puppy sellers aimed at regulating home breeders and driving so-called “puppy mills” to extinction.
It prohibited retail sales of dogs and cats, but the phase-out language was removed, so existing businesses in compliance can continue to sell the animals, effectively “grandfathering” them in to carry on doing business.
“Royal Palm Beach is proposing a phase-out,” said Ashton, who reported that she had found two cases relevant to the situation.
One was in Palm Beach Gardens, where they had a six-month phase-out that has held up in state circuit court, and the other was in Sunrise, which had an eight-month phase-out. That measure has held up in federal court. Both cases are now on appeal.
Ashton recommended a sunset period of two years, and that adopt-athon events remain legal. “We represent 38,000 citizens and need to avoid unnecessary litigation,” Mayor Fred Pinto said.
He wanted a number that would be less likely to attract a lawsuit. The council seemed to want to take into account when the lease was up on the only firm that will be directly affected by the ordinance.
Daniel Ruiz, the owner of Star Pups on State Road 7 in Royal Palm Beach, spoke in defense of his firm.
“I am the owner of a legal, law-abiding business,” said Ruiz, who added that he was about to be run out of business unfairly because of outsiders coming into the village.
He blamed the Humane Society and made disparaging comments by name; denied that his animals were sick, lethargic or mistreated; and had to be corralled by Pinto for his choice of language and reminded that those who speak must do so only to the council, not in cross-talk with other speakers.
Ruiz said his currently legal business was going to be shut down because of the measure, and that even though he sells other items, his business would not survive without the sale of puppies.
Ruiz added that he expected to sue. “You are putting me out of business,” he said.
He referred to the council as “clueless” and suggested that they were violating the Sunshine Law.
Other speakers were given three minutes to address the issue.
Don Anthony, a spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation, described neglected animals, illegal outdoor puppy mills, and defective and sick dogs caused by inbreeding.
“They make us pay thousands of dollars in medical bills,” said Anthony, recommending rescue organizations and hobby breeders, and said the only ones against the measure were the pet shop owners and the lobbyist for big puppy mills.
Michelle Lazaro said she doesn’t live or work in the community but has helped pass numerous other animal retail bans. “Grandfathering is the single worst thing you can do,” she said, describing where pictures could be seen.
Former Councilman David Swift remarked that he hadn’t planned on speaking, but that the industry is problematic. “We bought Toto,” said Swift, who described a pet that has had multi-thousand-dollar medical problems. “It is due to inbreeding.”
Several residents all asked that the phase-out be sooner. There was no discussion of if the moratorium would take effect, only of how short the sunset period could be and have the village prevail in a lawsuit.
Vice Mayor Selena Smith asked that the phase-out be 18 months and that adoptions preclude any sales that made a profit. The entire council looked to the attorney for guidance.
“I think I can prevail at 18 months,” Ashton said.
Smith’s motion passed unanimously.