PB: Pet Shop Boy #2 – Will The Real Conservative Please Stand Up?

by SDM

SDM had a big plan today. We were going to opine on the council’s handling of an ordinance on truck backup noises and a couple on variances, but we got lost in thought after watching the land planning discussion on pet stores.

Vice Mayor Dubois introduced a measure banning pet stores from selling dogs and cats. The ordinance obviously only applies in Palmetto Bay and was passed despite the fact that no stores currently sell dogs or cats in our little burgh.

So, the question asked by Councilwoman Lindsay struck SDM as particularly apt: What’s the rush with passing an ordinance banning a practice that’s not going on here?

Now, before the animal shelter people have a conniption fit, please understand that your SDMers are owners of both pure bred and adopted dogs. We are dog lovers to a fault and find it tragic that local shelters kill tens of thousands of healthy dogs and cats each year, while at the same time pure bred animals continue to pour into the local marketplace.

It is tragic and desperately sad that so many people irresponsibly breed and then discard dogs and cats so that they become essentially feral and breed in the “wild.” This situation leads animal lovers like Vice Mayor Dubois to sympathize with the movement that seeks to limit the number of dogs and cats introduced to the local market in any concrete way they imagine will do so.

But…and you knew there was a “but” coming…Councilwoman Lindsay courageously raised a serious – and frankly conservative – objection on whether the measure being proposed would actually achieve the stated objective. Mrs. Lindsay – who receives rare praise here as we all know – read aloud a letter from a group that represents the pet industry.  Instead of addressing the letter’s contents with a countervailing argument, Vice Mayor Dubois resorted to the ad hominem fallacy, noting that the industry group is represented by dreaded lobbyists.

Aside: SDM always finds it amusing that when your business appeals for relief to the government, you think it’s  a proper exercise of the right to petition the government. Yet, when the person hired to make the argument is in a competing business or another industry, her appeal to the government is somehow dirty or untoward. Too often, where you sit is where you stand.

The industry lobby raised several good points despite their wicked status. They noted that some people want a dog or cat of a certain breed. (SDM is familiar with a friend who purchased a specific breed because its coat produced less dander, which allowed an asthmatic child to better tolerate a puppy.) The association also noted that sometimes people take home a dog or cat from a shelter only to find that the dog has serious health problems (i.e., expensive ones), which could have been bred out by a reputable breeder.

People in a free market often make specific choices when purchasing a pet. They want an animal of a particular size; one that is energetic or lazy so that it will match its owner (yes, SDMers are the latter); one that is protective or docile; one that has short hair or one that has long hair; and so on and so on.

To try to meet these market demands and to allow for a comparative purchase, some pet stores try to offer a range of breeds in a single retail setting. The trade off for this convenience is that these retail shops are often – and probably correctly – accused of buying their dogs and cats from “mills.”

But, as the letter read by Mrs. Lindsay noted, these large breeders are regulated by the state and federal governments, a fact SDM did not know. Contrast these allegedly vile breeders with the numerous private breeders all over this country who follow precisely zero standards and are completely unregulated.

Aside: When one SDMer purchased a pure bred dog, she went well into North Florida to find a reputable breeder that would certify the dog to the greatest extent possible to be free from hip dysplasia. Trying to find such a breeder in Miami was nearly impossible for the breed she preferred.

But directly to Mr. Dubois’ point, will his ordinance meet the stated objective of reducing the number of dogs roaming Palmetto Bay’s neighborhoods? We would argue that it does not. Consider the provision of Mr. Dubois’ ordinance, which is directly designed to prevent the “mills” from selling their dogs through a retail outlet located in our town:

Section 30-60.31. Retail Sale of Dogs and Cats.

(a) As of December 2, 2013, pet stores, shops or care centers shall be precluded from displaying, selling, trading, delivering, bartering, leasing, renting, auctioning, give away, transferring, offer for sale or transfer (sic), or otherwise dispose of (sic) dogs or cats in the Village of Palmetto Bay, except as provided below:

(1) A person or pet store that sells, delivers, offers for sale, trades, barters, leases, rents, auctions, gives away, or otherwise transfers or disposes of dogs and or cats that were bred and reared on property owned by and zoned for the person or pet store.

Do you see the gigantic hole in this ordinance? SDM would argue that a breeder or a group of breeders could organize themselves as a pet store (or more simply as a corporate “person”) and continue to sell dogs and cats with a certificate that shows the person bred the animal on property “owned by and zoned for the person.”

Imagine this example: A puppy mill in North Carolina owns and breeds ten different types of miniature dogs on its property, which is properly zoned for the purpose. That owner enters into a retail agreement with a store located in Palmetto Bay. The retail store offers the puppy on a commission basis, but the person who is actually “selling” the animal is the Georgia “person.”

Does this ordinance clearly prohibit such a practice? SDM would say that the answer is not clear, thereby making it unenforceable. SDM would prefer to see an ordinance that required certification from the seller that the puppy was bred to remove certain breed specific diseases and that if the animal becomes ill the store must permit a return and/or restore the pet to good health by paying the vet bills.

But there is a larger question at issue here, which is whether it is Mrs. Lindsay or Mr. Dubois who is exhibiting the more conservative approach to regulating businesses in this community.

Let’s stipulate for a second that the selling of puppies injects significant emotion into a regulatory scheme. Yet, there are other goods and services that cause emotional responses: guns and ammunition; abortions and other medical procedures like butt lifts; alcohol and tobacco sales (SDM bets that electronic cigarettes will be next on the regulatory hit list); strip clubs; and even certain types of educational alternatives.

So the question that strikes SDM from the perspective of a voter is which of these two council members will tend to treat fairly a business whose goods and services are controversial in some quarters?

Mrs. Lindsay displayed an admirable penchant to at least give the matter further consideration before making a final decision. In contrast, Mr. Dubois was hell-bent on pushing through this regulation even in the face of legitimate philosophical, practical and consumer-based arguments showing it is either unnecessary or won’t achieve its central objective.

SDM Says: We have been supporters here of Mr. Dubois, believing him to be more friendly to business and more responsible when it comes to halting excessive spending. We have also held Mrs. Lindsay up to withering criticism for what we see as unfair regulatory proposals. It surprises us then that, on balance, we cannot say whether Mr. Dubois or Mrs. Lindsay is the local elected official hewing most closely to SDM’s conservative view of the role of government. As we approach the next election, perhaps voters with a similar philosophy will delve more deeply into this important question.

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