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State, local agencies to conduct sweeps of local pet stores

By Staff | Nov 23, 2009

With many families looking to purchase puppies or kittens as Christmas gifts, the number of pet sales tend to rise during the holiday season and some agencies are conducting sweeps to ensure that dealers are complying with state regulations.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is sending out inspectors over the next five weeks to check whether pet stores are in compliance with Florida statutes.
According to state law, any dogs or cats sold must be at least eight weeks of age and be accompanied by a Florida health certificate signed by a licensed veterinarian that outlines what vaccinations, tests and treatments the animal has received.
“Pets bring a great deal of joy to families and are often a considerable investment,” said Commissioner Charles H. Bronson. “So it’s important to do business with a reputable pet store or dealer who knows and follows the law to avoid problems from occurring after a purchase of an animal.”
Lee County Domestic Animal Services also has the legal authority to inspect local pet stores and dealers, explained director Donna Ward. The agency said most of the local pet stores aren’t in violation, but other breeders have been.
“What we have found is that the pet stores aren’t necessarily in violation, they are mostly in compliance,” said Ward. “Where we see noncompliance is in local breeders or puppy mills.”
Animal services shut down a puppy mill operating out of east Lehigh Acres on Nov. 17. Twenty-nine animals were taken including 24 Yorkies and Maltese puppies, one German shepherd and four cats. The owners told LCDAS officers that the animals were confined in stacked crates where they sat in their own feces and urine.
Ward said none of the 29 animals had health certificates.
Because many pet stores receive their animals from puppy mills in other states, the state inspectors will determine if they have certificates and are the right age. Many people looking for pets don’t understand the importance of having a health certificate accompanying an animal.
“Potential pet owners looking to purchase an animal don’t know about a health certificate and it is important it has that,” she said. “Our experience is that when we have these backyard breeders and puppy mills, even the parents who are breeding aren’t current on vaccines and you are just asking for animals to have some type of medical problem or condition.”
State law also requires dealers to inform buyers that they have a right to return, exchange or receive reimbursement for veterinary expenses within 14 days of purchase if an animal is unfit.
Ward suggests shoppers look for their pets at the local shelter this holiday season.
“With so many animals needing homes, people should consider coming to a shelter,” said Ward. “Whatever breed you are looking for, they will come through our doors.”
Animals are adopted for less than $100, a fee which includes up-to-date shots, alterations and other services. She said animals leave with the equivalent of $500 worth of veterinarian services and in some cases the shelter offers complimentary veterinarian services for problems that arise 10 days after adoption.
“You aren’t going to get those same veterinarian services for less than $100 if you purchase from a pet store,” she said.
Consumers seeking compensation from sellers may contact the state’s Division of Animal Industry, which in the last four years has helped complainants obtain $80,000 in restitution settlements.
According to Bronson, potential pet owners should not only worry about whether their dealer is complying with state law, but also whether they are procuring an animal that is suitable for their home and lifestyle.
Some tips from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services include: researching breeds to ensure they are a fit for your lifestyle, examine the health certificate from the seller and contact the seller immediately if a problem arises.