Puppy mills now illegal in Ontario, but advocates say little will change for dogs

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Published June 26, 2024 at 6:03 am

Puppy mills now illegal in Ontario, but advocates say little will change for dogs

Puppy mills are now illegal in Ontario after the province recently passed legislation banning them, but critics say the new law will do little to curb the problem.

The law, called the Preventing Unethical Puppy Sales Act, or PUPS Act, was beefed up in committee meetings after animal advocates levelled scathing criticism against the initial proposed legislation.

Those found guilty of operating puppy mills in the province will now be subject to a minimum $10,000 penalty and $25,000 for the death of a dog. Those penalties can be multiplied for each dog, potentially creating massive fines.

As part of the new law, the province made it illegal to inbreed, breed a female dog more than three times in a two-year period and breed a female dog younger than a year old. The new law also makes it illegal to be a broker for puppy mills, something the proposed legislation initially missed.

The province’s Animal Welfare Services enforces cruelty laws through its inspectors, which number around 100. But there’s no new money or specialized puppy mill inspectors to go along with the new rules.

The new law is a “significant step forward in stopping puppy mills,” said Solicitor General Michael Kerzner.

“With this new tool, I have full confidence that our Animal Welfare Services personnel will be able to hold bad actors to account,” he said.

The government is now developing regulations and can further strengthen the law down the road, Kerzner said.

Jess Dixon, a Progressive Conservative legislator and former Crown attorney who prosecuted animal welfare cases, helped develop the new law.

“Up until PUPS existed, I would say that the risk-to-reward ratio of unethical breeding was fairly low,” she said.

“You could get quite a significant reward by selling these dogs for thousands of dollars with essentially very little overhead and very little risk that anything will happen to you.”

The new fines put “a significant financial risk” in play, she said.

“It really does put some teeth into it.”

The new law also strives to make life a little easier for Crown attorneys who prosecute animal cruelty cases.

Dixon said she was long frustrated as a Crown attorney prosecuting animal cruelty cases, the trials of which can be much longer and significantly more complex than traffic cases heard in the same provincial offences court. The letdown often came during sentencing, she said, where there would be fines for animal cruelty cases that ranged from $200 to $500.

Mandatory minimum sentences should change that and help both prosecutors and Animal Welfare Services inspectors, she said.

“It is very difficult to go and do a job every day where you feel like your efforts lead to nothing,” Dixon said.

Despite the new law and tough talk from the government, animal advocates say little will change for dogs.

Many called for a dog-breeding licensing regime, something the province is not interested in creating right now.

“The law is great and I think the PUPS Act is a step in the right direction, however, the way it is now, it is going to be very difficult to enforce,” said Lynn Perrier of Reform Advocates for Animal Welfare.

“Ontario needs breeders to be licensed because until that happens, there’s no way for the government to know where these puppy mills are.”

Everyone, including the government, agrees that they do not know how widespread puppy mills are, or where they are located. It’s an underground business.

“I want to be positive and, so at least they’re doing something, but this whole PUPS Act is like a propaganda tool, there’s no meat on the bones,” said Donna Powers, the president of advocacy group Humane Initiative who also spoke at the legislative committee that looked at the bill.

Powers has long documented and long badgered Animal Welfare Services to do something about various puppy mills she has found. Thus far, the province’s inspectors have done little, she said, despite her tips that come with gruesome photographs, videos of dogs in horrendous conditions and addresses.

The new law could theoretically help, she said, but without more resources and a licensing regime, it could be all for naught.

“If you don’t know who the breeders are and where they are, how are you ever going to enforce this thing?”

Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice who also spoke at committee, was equally as blunt.

“I don’t anticipate that anything on the ground will change as a result of this bill,” she said.

The government’s talk of putting puppy mills out of business is little more than empty promises, she said.

“There’s no legal tool to shut down puppy mills,” Labchuk said.

“If you want to shut down the operator, you would have to lay charges, you’d have to go through the trial process, you have to hope for a conviction and then you would have to hope that the judge listens to you and imposes a ban on ownership of animals for that person. And that could take years.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2024.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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