MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) — Pet stores in Manatee County will once again be allowed to sell cats and dogs.

At a meeting Tuesday, Manatee County commissioners voted 5-1 to repeal a ban on the retail sale of dogs and cats.

The county has been locked in a legal battle with two Petland stores ever since the ban went into effect in 2021.

Some commissioners raised concerns about the costs of the ongoing battle, and recommended the ban be reversed.

“We’re kind of hiding behind the county attorney saying that this is a long process, expensive, and we are unsure about what is going to happen. We are sure what is going to happen. There are over 70 municipalities in the state alone, and every one of them won their case. The precedent is set that this is something that can be won,” said Commissioner George Kruse.

“If it is unconstitutional, how did those other 70 municipalities succeed with the judges voting in their favor? How did multiple states succeed in statewide bans,” Kruse wondered.

Commissioner Mike Rahn wanted to repeal the ban due to concerns it would force businesses to close.

“This is not an issue of pet mills, or whatever. This is an issue of allowing two businesses to operate in Manatee County that have operated for sometime, one for well over 20 years, and if they were doing something incorrect or something wrong, the market would have shut them down,” said Rahn. “This would have no impact on puppy mills in the state of Florida. If we want to change the puppy mill laws in the state of Florida, let’s do it at the state level, where it belongs, and change those and outlaw puppy mills.”

Supporters of the ban claimed the pet stores source their animals from puppy mills and breeders with unethical practices.

Former Commissioner Carol Whitmore starting pushing for the ban about a decade before it was approved.

“What it is about, is where they are buying the products from and the way that these puppies are being raised are inhumanely,” Whitmore said. “All of us support free enterprise, we don’t support how these puppies are being produced.”

In 2020, the Humane Society of the United States released video from an undercover investigation that showed conditions at different breeding sites across the country. The Petland store in Bradenton was cited in their report which accused the business of buying puppies from one of the breeders in question. The store told 8 On Your Side it only buys from breeders who raise “quality pets”.

A HSUS spokeswoman called the repeal a blow to animal welfare.

“We don’t want anyone to lose a job, we don’t want any business to close. We want them to phase out and transition to a humane pet store model like countless stores have already done and just not sell the puppies,” said HSUS representative Kate MacFall.

The legal battle between the county and the two Petland stores is still ongoing.

Petland Bradenton owner Neil Benecke declined to speak with 8 On Your Side. He did speak during public comment before commissioners made their vote.

“To date, there is no evidence that HSUS or pro-ban individuals have actually visited or personally visited or inspected any of our breeders. It is all hearsay, it is all conjecture. In fact, there’s not a single statistic, there’s not a single study out there that proves that any of these bad breeders have been closed because of a pet ban. The numbers are just not there. What we do know, in fact, is that two long-serving, law-abiding businesses will be forced to close and over 50 Manatee County residents will lose their jobs. Myself and my two brothers families will be left with empty shelves, impending bankruptcy, and loss of everything we have ever worked for,” Benecke said.