STUART, Fla. — The sale of dogs, cats and rabbits is now illegal in Martin County.
County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to change local ordinances to prohibit the retail sale of the animals, joining nearly 80 other counties or cities across the state to enact similar bans.
In Martin County, there are currently two stores that sell animals within the city limits of Stuart.
Employees or owners at The Noble Paw and Wags About You said they were not aware the county was planning to vote to change the law. Now, they have six months to sell the animals they have before doing so would be in violation of the ban.
"We are so shocked by this thing that happened today," Jill Scott said.
Scott owns The Noble Paw with her daughter. She said she also owns an animal hospital in West Palm Beach.
"Good people can be in this industry too, doing it the right way," Scott said.
Scott said she understands why pet stores get a bad reputation. Some have a history of selling animals from puppy mills or pets with serious health concerns.
She feels she is now paying the price for the "bad apples."
"The thought that we would participate in something that would harm animals would be unconscionable to us," Scott said.
She added that she knows from whom she's buying animals.
"I just got back from Indiana a few weeks ago," Scott said. "I went into the home of a gal who breeds our golden retrievers, Labradors and German shepherds and they breed them with their families around. They're involved with their children."
Animal rescue organizations praised the county's decision, saying locally they have seen sick dogs that have come from dog stores. They also said the ban will help with pet overpopulation.
"If we don't, what are we going to have? Ten pet stores here? Because none of our surrounding counties will allow them, so they're all going to come here," Keri Burgess, president of the Farm Dog Rescue, said.
Burgess helped propose the change to local laws.
"Even if they're dogs that are trucked in from out of state, it's not good for our community," Burgess said. "From a rescue standpoint, I get between 10 and 15 surrender calls a day, so we already have a pet overpopulation problem."
Nationwide, five states have passed total bans on the sale of dogs. Florida has not been able to pass a similar ban.
Scott could look to the city of Stuart to opt out of the ordinance as one way to stay in business, but county staff said they received support from city leaders when preparing the draft ordinance.
"We have invested our life savings into this endeavor as any new business does," Scott said. "We were just licensed seven to eight months ago, so we signed a lease we're responsible for. The thought someone would tell us we couldn't do this without any due process, without any wrongdoing on our part, is, as an American, pretty scary."
Rescue groups are also glad the law will be in place to prevent the purchase of animals as gifts for Christmas and Easter, which they claim often end up in shelters.