I will preface this column by saying that the first and only dog I've ever owned -- the dog that has become my muse for my pet advocacy passion -- was purchased in a pet store.
Why? Because I didn't know any better.
I didn't know that every year hundreds of thousands of healthy, adoptable pets are put down at animal shelters throughout the country because there's no room to house them.
Would I buy an animal from a pet store again? I think the answer is obvious.
We've all heard horror stories of puppy mills that supply pet stores with less-than-healthy, often very sick animals.
So why would anyone buy an animal from a pet store when they can get a perfectly healthy animal -- purebred to mutt -- from a shelter or rescue group?
That question is the inspiration behind Michele Lazarow's cause.
"I have been fighting for over two years to ban the retail sales of cats and dogs in Hallandale Beach," she told me. "At the time I started, there were only about four U.S. cities who had passed an ordinance banning the sale of pets in pet stores. Now there are about 12, with Parkland and Lake Worth being the first two cities in Florida."
But despite support from The Broward County Humane Society, Broward County Animal Care, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, and Commissioner Keith London, Lazarow says that opposition from Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper, has prevented the outright ban they are seeking. In fact, she believes it was Cooper's opposition that prevented supporters from presenting their case in front of the commission on March 21st.
"I have informed Ms. Lazaro that I will continue to strengthen our ordinances but do not support banning any business," Cooper said. "In my opinion, banning pet stores simply pushes activity ungrounded where dogs will not be protected."
That hasn't stopped Lazarow.
"Seeing how it is an election year, the fact the mayor does not support it will sit poorly with the animal lovers and advocates here in Hallandale Beach," she said. "As a result of my frustration with local government, I have filed to run for Commissioner in 2012. I never saw myself as a politician. But I have always been an activist and advocate for the voiceless. The frustration over how few officials care about the animals has motivated me to change this."
Cooper, who says she has three dogs in her household, does not support the ban, but says has worked with the commission on a stronger ordinance that protects and regulates the sale of animals and treatment of animals in the city.
"What about a county-wide ordinance banning the sale of pets in all Broward County pet stores?" I asked Lazarow.
"Given the number of open and thriving pet shops in Broward County, the opposition from business owners would make it impossible. But if enough cities start to pass it, they might be more open to the idea," she said.
It wouldn't be the first time the Broward County Commission would be asked to take a stand for animal rights. Last year, animal activists helped elect Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca after he took a stand against the existing Dangerous Dog Ordinance that had been drafted by his opponent, Ken Keechl. Soon after the election, the ordinance was repealed and a new one was drafted and approved by the commission.
"We need more advocates like LaMarca and London on the inside," Lazarow said.
And she may just get her wish. London has decided to run against Cooper for Hallandale Beach mayor this year.
Despite the opposition Lazarow believes she would get from Broward County pet shop owners, there are a growing number of pet stores throughout the country that are no longer selling pets, but helping to adopt them instead. In addition, many municipal pet shelters are partnering with pet stores to help adopt pets.
"I believe that this movement is happening for a few reasons," Lazarow says. "One is the number of homeless animals we are killing, another is the conditions these animals are bred in. But I also believe that this is a backlash to the lobbyists' continual support of this industry. There are 10,000 documented licensed puppy mills. This is not counting unlicensed mills. Cities are saying, 'OK so the government isn't going to stop this, then we will.'"
"Let us all work together to support the fair, humane treatment of all animals," Cooper said. "Breeders that do not treat animals properly should also be regulated. Owners should know that their dogs were bred by a licensed breeder, they should know where that breeder is located, and the animals have been fully cared for while in the custody of the pet store and have been properly examined by a licensed veterinarian."
Lazarow and her supporters will get another chance to present their case to the Hallandale Beach commission on April 4.
"The movement protects everyone -- innocent animals and unsuspecting consumers. Alberquerque, N.M., was the first city to pass a similar ordinance and the numbers were evident. Shelter euthanasia down 23 percent and adoptions up 30 percent. Everyone wins," she says.