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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida reptile and pet store owners survive yet another close call as legislators run out of time

Local conservationists and pet store owners are hopeful a bill banning the sale of all iguanas as well as the sale of recreational dogs and cats won't pass in the Florida Legislature.

Local conservationists and pet store owners are hopeful a bill banning the sale of all iguanas as well as the sale of recreational dogs and cats won't pass in the Florida Legislature.

The amendment to the bill titled HB 1033 was proposed by Rep. Sam H. Killebrew, R-Winter Haven, in December 2023 and looked to update the previous ban of the Green Iguana species to now include all iguanas. Lawmakers are seeking ways to reduce the growing invasive population.

The legislation did not receive a hearing during this year's legislative session, which is scheduled to end Friday.

For the first time, the bill also includes a ban on the retail sale of domestic dogs and cats in an attempt to mitigate the growing number of puppy mills.

It went on the further explain that, “Pet store means a business that sells or offers for sale animals to the public at retail for profit. The term does not include a person who sells or offers for sale directly to the public only animals that the person bred and raised.”

Multiple attempts made by WUFT to reach Rep. Killebrew and his office for comment were unsuccessful.

For now, those working with reptiles feel some relief although the proposal could resurface as it has in past legislative sessions.

Dylan Jimenez, 25, grew up with and now specializes in reptiles at Gator City Reptiles where he gets to continue his passion.

Here, you can also meet Dylan's best friend, Auggie, the 2-year-old Rhinoceros iguana, which is one of the many rescued reptiles at the Gainesville store.

“We’re not just a store, we’re a rescue as well and almost all of these animals have been either rescued or turned in to us.”

Many conservationists agree the invasive Green iguana species are an issue in South Florida. But many reptile shops in North Florida and groups like the United States Association of Reptile Keepers are fearful a statewide ban may create a precedent for other states to follow.

“What happens in Florida usually trickles upwards,” said Jeremy Turgeon, founder of Brass Man Reptiles in North Carolina as well as one of the newest directors at USARK.

“There are still endangered species of iguanas out there with less than 70 existing. It’s important we have the ability to reproduce and raise them safely without having to pay for yet another permit.”
Elijah Day

More than 50 local governments, including at least 15 counties, restrict domestic pet sales, though no statewide restriction currently exists.

With more than 30 pet stores located in Alachua County, a ban on dog and cat sales could have a huge impact on many locally owned stores.

A ban like this would certainly affect corporate companies like Petco, which according to its quarterly report from July 2023, said: “Through in-store adoption events, we have helped find homes for nearly 7 million animals.”

Although there are no laws in place to ban the sale of aquaculture like fish and coral, the consequences of a ban this severe have pet store owners feeling uncertain about the future of their businesses.

Rhett Gehring, general manager at Aquatropics in Gainesville, said the proposal could have affected the future of aquarium stores like his.

“This has been going on every three years or so, and now with it getting this far, the talks about banning the sale of fish and aquaculture would be next and it’s becoming more of a serious discussion,” Gehring said.

“It’s not just us that would be going out of business,” he said. “It’s people who export fish from other countries that may lose their jobs, too.”

With Florida being home to some of the most sustainable ecosystems in the country for reptiles, it houses some of the nation's largest facilities of colonies of endangered iguanas.

Elijah Day, 20, owns Destination Gecko where he collects, sells and breeds reptiles. He also owns an “assurance colony” of endangered iguanas named Brock and Iggy.

“There are still endangered species of iguanas out there with less than 70 existing. It’s important we have the ability to reproduce and raise them safely without having to pay for yet another permit,” Day said.

“It’s not just targeting businesses, it’s hurting conservationists and breeders whose life work is based around caring for these guys and treating them like family,” Day said.

Copyright 2024 WUFT 89.1. To see more, visit WUFT 89.1.

Riley Sullivan