Orange County’s ban on the retail sale of puppies and kittens, set to take effect Wednesday, survived a legal challenge brought by three owners of pet shops who argued the new ordinance will bankrupt them.
In a six-page decision, Circuit Judge Vincent Chiu said lawyers for two Orlando Petland franchises and for Breeders Pick presented “credible evidence the ordinance would have a catastrophic effect” on their businesses, but law requires him to consider other factors, too.
“While there may be a fair debate as to whether the ordinance is a good policy, that debate belongs in the political arena rather than the courtroom, and is one in which this Court has no place,” Chiu said.
The stores asked the judge for an injunction prohibiting the county from enforcing the new rule.
The ban will forbid all but one store in Orange County from selling puppies.
Chews-A-Puppy in Ocoee is exempt because Ocoee city commissioners voted to opt out of the county ordinance.
Amber Davis, lead counsel for the stores, had the burden of establishing four legal prongs required for the order, including whether stopping the ban from taking effect would serve a greater public interest. The judge said her arguments fell short on each.
Chiu said the stores’ arguments focused largely on the interests of themselves and their customers rather the public at large.
He said in the ruling he had a “sobering understanding” of the impact of the ban on the stores and their employees, many of whom will likely lose their jobs, but noted county commissioners acted in the public interest when the board passed the fiercely debated measure, 4-3.
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The judge quoted from the ordinance which alleged “most dogs and cats sold in pet stores come from large-scale, commercial breeding facilities where the health and welfare of animals is disregarded in order to maximize profits,” a reference to so-called puppy mills.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Elaine Marquardt Asad, who defended the measure, provided evidence that half of the eight pet shops which sell puppies in Orange County get at least some of them from breeders with multiple federal and state violations.
Puppy sales are what keep the shops in business, pet store owners said during the court hearing earlier this month.
Trevor Elizabeth Davies, co-owner of Petland on Semoran Boulevard, testified that puppies account for 72% of her store’s sales.
Ben Hoofnagle, co-owner of Petland in Waterford Lakes, said his store has sold 13,000 puppies over the past five years.
They had argued the ordinance is an unconstitutional prohibition, which would punish good businesses that aren’t the cause of the “puppy-mill” problem the rule aims to fix. Davies’ store has been in business for 25 years; Hoofnagle’s for 18 years; and Breeders Pick for 17 years.