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Legislator examining dog training industry amid Pawsitively Paradise probe

State Rep. John Snyder
mailbox outside Pawsitively Paradise in Palm City
Posted at 7:26 PM, Apr 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-02 22:02:14-04

PALM CITY, Fla. — WPTV continues to follow the Martin County Sheriff's Office investigation into Pawsitively Paradise, the dog training facility in Palm City where, according to deputies, at least three dogs have died since 2022.

Deputies are still waiting on the necropsies of two dogs they say died in the care of the facility within the last two months, and in the meantime are exploring all options to try to stop the business owner from possessing animals.

Region Martin County

6th dog's sickness allegedly linked to Pawsitively Paradise

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However, as WPTV has shared in an earlier report, dog training is an unregulated industry, and many government agencies told WPTV reporter Kate Hussey they're feeling as if their hands are tied.

At the heart of this issue is a 2021 law.

When deputies first investigated Pawsitively Paradise in November 2022, code enforcement cited the business eight times, seven of which were for improper care of animals. Specifically, it was keeping animals in crates without water.

Since then, the sheriff's office investigated two more dog deaths they said happened in the facility's care, and in total WPTV reported on at least six families alleging their dogs died or were severely injured in the care of business owner Nikki Camerlengo.

Nikki Camerlengo and her Pawsitively Paradise business under investigation
Nikk Camerlengo and her Pawsitively Paradise business are under investigation.

Camerlengo has denied any wrongdoing.

Many have asked WPTV how she's still operating even after these complaints and citations.

Code enforcement said they have no power to enforce regulation on a home-based business or shut it down, no matter how many citations or complaints it receives because of HB 403, which the county said strips code enforcement of its power.

WPTV took the issue to state Rep. John Snyder, R-Stuart, who said he believes the county may have more power than officials think.

State Rep. John Snyder wants to work with local leaders to put "some type of licensure potentially in place" for dog trainers.  April 2, 2024.png
State Rep. John Snyder wants to work with local leaders to put " some type of licensure potentially in place" for dog trainers.

"As it pertains to this legislation here, and the keyword just to read from the page, that the home-based businesses cannot be treated in a manner that is different from other businesses," Snyder said. "So, really, my call would be back to the county. If there's things we need to look at in this industry in general, we're all for that. Because the last thing that we can ever allow is for something like this to go unchecked."

"We've found there's really no federal or state requirement to become a dog trainer," WPTV's Kate Hussey told Snyder. "I have absolutely no certification or training, but I could open up a business tomorrow so long as I pay for a business license and say, 'Hey, I'm a dog trainer, bring your pets to me,' and the community would be none the wiser. Should there be more regulation or oversight in this industry?"

"I think that is something here on the Treasure Coast that I look forward to working with local leaders on and really putting some type of licensure potentially in place," Snyder said.

WPTV contacted the county's code enforcement for an interview but instead directed Hussey to the legislation and county ordinances.

Snyder said he would be working with the county in an attempt to come up with a solution.

Deputies said Tuesday the necropsies they're still waiting on could likely determine whether Camerlengo will face criminal charges.

So far, deputies said they cannot criminally charge Camerlengo due to a lack of physical evidence.

The necropsy performed in the 2022 case came back inconclusive, and the multiple other families told WPTV they never thought to order a necropsy at the time of the incident or couldn't afford the $1,600 cost.

Again, Camerlengo has told WPTV multiple times she's done nothing wrong, and deputies have been trying to get her side of the story.

Deputies told WPTV on Tuesday she's refusing to talk.