Apparently, an Orange County ordinance passed in 2021 banning puppy mills didn’t send a strong enough message. A proposed “commercial kennel” in Orlando has raised suspicions among neighbors that the facility might house a dog breeding and puppy selling operation, if built.
The proposal is set for a public hearing on May 4 in the Orange County Board of Zoning Adjustment. The kennel’s location is in northeast Orlando near the border of — no joke — the town of Taintsville. Looking at the cover letter description written by the property owner, listed as Juan David Valencia, people in the area have reason to be wary of the project.
At first glance, some of its details seem admirable. The owner wants to build a “state-of-the-art commercial kennel” with 44 dog runs and a 1,250-square-foot indoor playground. Note, in this case, that we’re not talking about a traditional kennel where people bring their dogs. The facility will only include dogs owned by Valencia. And much less appealing in the kennel’s description is the “nursery room with 10 dog runs (8’ x 3’) [and] a puppy room with 5 runs (8’ x 3’)”. Valencia says he keeps about 80 dogs at a time but wants to build this kennel to host up to 100 dogs. Hoist the red flags.
Orange County’s ordinance banning pet sales becomes most relevant in a section describing the facility’s operation. “Within our operation, we rarely allow people into our kennel, but our customers are welcome to visit us by appointment only. Usually, our customers learn about us from word of mouth, dog shows or social media, they are placed on a waiting list, and we contact them once a puppy with their desired characteristics becomes available.”
Michele Wacker lives about 1,300 feet from the proposed facility. She found out about the project two weeks ago and says her community is concerned. “We’re pissed,” she told Orlando Weekly. “I mean, I’ve been in dog rescue for 30 years and cannot believe that this is on my doorstep.”
The proposal could contain language that allows it to evade the ban on pet sales, however. Because the ordinance prohibits retail sales and is specifically aimed at pet stores, a commercial kennel not open to the public could provide an end run around that prohibition.
It’s also worth noting, though, that in its preamble, the ordinance specifically calls out “large-scale, commercial breeding facilities where the health and welfare of the animals is disregarded in order to maximize profits” that are supplying pet stores with dogs and cats.
When Orlando Weekly reached Valencia, who asked to be referred to as David Valencia (he’s referred to as Juan Santa on Board of Zoning Adjustment documents), he said he was in Uruguay looking for a particular breed of dog.
“If you like one, we can talk about it and if I think that you are the right person for the dog, then you can have it,” Valencia said. “Obviously, there’s a price for it but it’s different than just walking into a pet store. You pick the dog and you pay for it and you walk away. Here with us when you walk away with a puppy, you become part of my life because I need to be sure that you take care of my puppy properly.”
Valencia, who says he’s also a stock trader, told Orlando Weekly he breeds small dogs like toy poodles and Maltese because there aren’t many small breeds available in shelters. He calls his kennel proposal a “family project” and says he plans to live on site with his wife and kids. Currently, Valencia says, he has 64 dogs. In line with his claims of running an ethical business, he says he only breeds dogs once a year and trains puppies before selling them, no younger than 12 weeks.
The Orlando kennel project is not his first foray into dog breeding. Valencia is well-known in Canada for it — “well-known” being a euphemism here. In an email correspondence with Michele Wacker, Donna Powers, co-founder and president of Stop the Mills/The Humane Initiative, said municipalities and cities in the Ontario province have started to ban the sale of pets over the past decade.
“So David, not willing to give up the income of selling tiny cute puppies for $2,600 would move. Then he would have to move again, then again,” Powers said in an email.
Powers says Valencia eventually settled in Bolton, a town north of Toronto and the current headquarters of his business Bright Pets. The Yelp reviews for this business are about what you expect. All six of them gave Bright Pets one star.
“Absolutely the worst place to buy a puppy from. He sold me the wrong breed,” a reviewer named Kristina A. wrote in a post from June 2020. “He says it’s a Maltese and toy poodle mix, however my puppy is 3x the size he should be for his age at 4 months.”
Another poster accused Bright Pets of selling them a sick puppy. Others were concerned they didn’t get the full health information, such as vaccine histories, about the dogs they bought.
Valencia alleges many of the reviews are fake. He also notes he has positive reviews on other sites. On Google Maps, Bright Pets has 4.4 stars from 187 reviews.
Wacker says their concerns extend beyond the dogs’ well-being at the kennel, although that is the most pressing issue. She says having, potentially, 100 dogs running around will be a nuisance for neighbors. In his proposal, Valencia attempts to assuage this concern, saying the dogs will spend most of their time indoors and “at least 30 minutes in the outdoor playground.” That, of course, raises its own issues. Valencia says dogs won’t spend too much time outside because of the Florida heat.
“Sometimes thinking about this I just feel like my head’s going to explode,” Wacker says. “And that’s how all of us feel.” She says she’ll probably move if the kennel is approved.
For what it’s worth, Valencia does seem to genuinely believe that dogs can have a positive impact on people’s lives. But his methods for giving that gift to people remain, to put it nicely, questionable.
The Board of Zoning Adjustment meeting (in which public comment will be heard) on allowing a special exception for Valencia’s commercial kennel is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, at 9 a.m. at the Orange County Administration Building. Wacker says opponents of the proposal will be wearing red to the meeting.
Even if the Board approves it, the kennel will still need approval from Orange County’s Board of County Commissioners.