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Saturday, Nov 18, 2017
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County looks to regulate dog trainers and ban 'helicoptering'

TAMPA — More than 20 people spoke in favor of a proposed ordinance that would require dog trainers and dog day cares to be licensed during a Hillsborough County Commission's meeting Wednesday.

Many wore hot pink "protect my pet" T-shirts and some pushed aside tears as they described how their pets were severely injured or killed under the care of a dog trainer.

Lorie Childers of Land O'Lakes brought a stuffed dog on a leash in front of the commission to demonstrate a controversial discipline method known as helicoptering or hanging.

"I don't have to tell you what happens if your dog gets it right or if she gets it wrong," Childers said. She then yanked the toy canine by the leash and swung it in the air. "You'd be blindsided by that technique."

More than two years ago, Childers said, her Shih Tzu-Pekingese mix puppy, Sarge, was fatally injured at a doggy day care. She's since pushed for regulatory oversight in the dog training industry at the state and local level.

'SARGE'S LAW' COULD BRING NEW RULES FOR DOG TRAINERS:

The proposed ordinance, called Truth in Training, could require trainers to be licensed and registered with the county and establish a dog trainer review panel. Trainers would also need to present a written plan to their clients and have liability insurance of at least $100,000.

These could be the first rules of their kind for dog trainers, said DeBora Cromartie-Mincey, senior assistant county attorney. The board requested the County Attorney's Office develop a draft ordinance in January.

"There are no uniform industry or legal standards in Florida — actually there are no legal standards across the nation," Cromartie-Mincey said.

The draft ordinance, however, does not suggest banning any specific training methods or tools. Cromartie-Mincey said that training methods considered controversial to some are acceptable to a other well known organizations. Under the ordinance as written, owners and trainers would agree to what type of training would be acceptable.

"We leave that to the trainer and the dog owner," Cromartie-Mincey said. "We leave all of that out. We do not define any training method or technique. We have found that there are so many, it's vast."

But some on the board, including Commissioner Les Miller, said the ordinance isn't going far enough.

Miller said he wants to see specific techniques banned from the county and suggested that the County Attorney's Office meet with licensed trainers to come up with a list.

"Why can't we put in some of these obvious killing techniques?" Miller asked, speaking specifically about helicoptering.

Dog trainer Angelica Steinker, founder of Courteous Canine, told the commissioners that her industry needs regulation. She said she is certified through a few pet professional boards. She said helicoptering should never be used to train a dog.

"There are a lot of dog trainers who want to use punishment to discipline a dog, whether that's through yanking the collar or helicoptering," Steinker said. "But there are unwanted side effects like death and injury."

Commissioners Miller and Pat Kemp said they received more than 1,000 emails on the proposed ordinance.

The board voted unanimously to give attorneys more time with the ordinance draft and pushed a public hearing to Nov. 15.

Contact Jonathan Capriel at [email protected] Follow @JonathanCapriel.

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