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Aventura

City takes up guardianship abuse and puppy mills

 

Special to the Miami Herald

Looking after the defenseless was on the agenda at an Aventura City Commission workshop Thursday with issues such as guardianship abuse and stopping “puppy mill” sales taking center stage.

A hot topic of discussion was support for state Senate bill 412 to reform guardianships, which can arise when a court declares a person to be incapacitated, often the result of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The judge will appoint a guardian, who can be a friend, family member or professional guardian, to oversee that person’s affairs.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami Dade) introduced the bill in the state Senate last November. The bill was referred to a Senate committee last December.

An Aventura group, Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, is taking aim at what it says are “professional predatory guardians,” who can sell a person’s home, control their bank accounts and place him or her in a nursing home — with no family consent required.

Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of the organization, said the court system lacks due process and transparency, which can result in the person being isolated from family members and gross fiscal mismanagement.

“[There are a] number of victims in Aventura and the probate court has the authority to retroactively nullify… any estate plan or power of attorney and they routinely do,” said Sugar, adding his mother-in-law’s estate plan and power of attorney were thrown out in probate court after a judge appointed a professional guardian to the case.

The commission decided the 14-page state legislation needed to be restructured to clearly attack the issue before further action.

“Are there abuses?” Aventura Mayor Susan Gottlieb said. “Absolutely. “[The bill paints a] broad brush that might affect others with children and families.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Enbar Cohen proposed an ordinance that would no longer allow retail shops in the city to sell dogs and cats. Rescue shelters would be allowed to conduct adoptions in the stores.

The ordinance would encourage people to adopt pets from shelters, which would save animals’ lives and reduce the taxpayers’ costs in sheltering the animals, Cohen said in a memo about the ordinance.

“Due to a surplus, dogs and cats are euthanized and it falls on the taxpayers to subsidize [the cost],” Cohen said.

Cohen said she introduced the ordinance to support Miami-Dade County’s “no-kill” policy. The county currently takes in 35,000 unwanted animals yearly, she noted.

The ordinance would prevent “puppy mill” sales and encourage people who seek to buy a pet to do so from a reputable breeder, Cohen said.

Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow was also on hand to support the ordinance, which she said she has championed in more than 40 other municipalities, including Pinecrest and Palmetto Bay.

Lazarow said she became a victim of a “puppy mill” sale after buying a sick dog at a Hollywood pet store in 2004. The dog must remain on medication for the rest of its life, she said.

“This is pre-emptive strike,” said Lazarow, noting Aventura does not have any retail stores that sell cats and dogs.

In other news, the council:

*Agreed to read an ordinance at the Feb. 4 City Council meeting allowing the expansion of the Aventura Mall. The three-level retail wing would be constructed where a food court now resides near the JC Penney store. The first level would be for parking and the second level for retail stores. The third level is being considered for a food court, although the food court may be moved to another location within the mall.

*Will prepare a resolution to set aside $30,000 for the commission of art for public places owned by the city. This would be for buying and placing art in the government center, arts & cultural center, the community recreation center and parks. Also, $5,000 will be used for the maintenance of the art. The resolution will include the city’s policy on acceptance of art donations.

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