Patricia Vieira had always dreamed of owning a boutique puppy shop. So after finding a storefront on Jefferson Avenue in Miami Beach this past January, she signed a 13-month lease with a $3,500 monthly rent, submitted her business license application, and finally got the go-ahead from the city in March. Specializing in teacup and toy breeds, she called her store Les Petits Puppies Boutique.
But less than three months after opening, Vieira was stunned to receive a letter from the city's business tax division saying her store was prohibited by Miami Beach law. The letter explained that if she didn't shut down immediately, she could be charged $250 per day, per animal.
The abrupt notification cost Vieira at least $15,000 in lost expenses, and her attorney Mason Kerns has now sued the city in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. In the complaint, Kerns says Miami Beach breached its contract with Vieira and argues its law is in conflict with the county's ordinance about puppy sales.
"We don't think the [Miami Beach] law should exist in the first place, of course, but it makes it doubly bad that they told her she could do it," he says. "They told her specifically that she could operate the business."
It's unclear why city officials approved Vieira's business application. Retail pet shops have been banned from Miami Beach since 2015. Although Vieira clearly indicated on her application that she would be operating a "puppy store/retail" company, the city granted her a business license on March 2, 2018, about a month after she submitted it.
Miami-Dade law permits pet sales from registered breeders but says cities may adopt stricter regulations. Kerns now argues that Miami Beach went too far by banning retail pet sales altogether.
"Our position is that doesn't mean the cities can completely outlaw it," he says.
Puppy sales have been a contentious issue in recent years as critics have fought against unscrupulous puppy mills, sometimes bringing down legitimate retailers in the process. Nearly 60 Florida cities have banned retail pet sales over the past decade following pressure from animal-rights advocates. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature tried to pass an amendment that would have preempted those local ordinances, but it was stripped from the bill after activists complained.
Some puppy businesses have tried to fight the issue in court. In February, a Broward pet shop owner sued Oakland Park for its "unconstitutionally vague" ordinance on retail pet sales, but city commissioners there were quick to point out his dicey history of animal abuse allegations.
Kerns, the attorney for Les Petits Puppies Boutique, says Vieira "abhors puppy mills" and is an animal lover who's just trying to run a loving and humane business.
"That was what was so particularly upsetting to her about getting shut down," he says. "She put things in her life on hold and really had her heart set on establishing this business as a dog lover and always sort of dreaming of making other people's lives happy by finding ethical breeders and helping the dogs that they distribute find good homes. It's been a lifelong dream of hers."