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Ontario to ban puppy mills, introduces legislation to curb 'bad actors'

Ontario is set to introduce new legislation today in an effort to stop puppy mills as the first in a suite of measures it hopes to implement in the coming months. Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner during a tour of the Toronto Holocaust Museum on Friday, June 9, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

TORONTO — Ontario has introduced legislation aimed at stamping out puppy mills, the first in a suite of animal protection measures it hopes to implement in the coming months.

The bill introduced Monday would prohibit puppy mills and lead to the creation of record keeping for dogs to ensure a canine's history can be traced. 

"It will specifically speak to bad actors, bad dog breeders and our stakeholders have told us this is something that's important," Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said in an interview.

"I really appreciate the awareness that's been brought to the forefront and we're acting."

The bill also leaves the door open to regulating the sale of dogs in the future.

Kerzner said Ontario would become the first province to introduce minimum penalties for those caught operating puppy mills through the bill called the Preventing Unethical Puppy Sales Act, or PUPS Act, which modifies the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, or PAWS Act.

Those found to be operating puppy mills would be subject to a minimum $10,000 penalty and $25,000 for the death of a dog in a puppy mill. 

The province intends to make 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 bill would also make separating puppies from mothers before eight weeks of age illegal, as well as make it illegal to keep breeding dogs in filthy environments.

"We're going to ensure that we don't penalize the good breeders, the ethical breeders," Kerzner said. 

"This whole PUPS Act is designed to go against the poor breeders because when a person buys a dog, unknowingly to them, that may have come from a bad actor, they're forced with many different responsibilities as to how to care for that animal, that dog."

The province also plans to increase the number of Animal Welfare Services inspectors, which currently stands at around 100, who are stationed throughout Ontario.

The proposed laws look good on paper, said Donna Power, co-founder of Humane Initiative, which has been advocating against puppy mills for 30 years.

"But without enforcement – like real meaningful enforcement, properly resourced enforcement – the law is just words," Power said.

The province's current animal cruelty laws apply to all dogs in the province, whether or not they are at a puppy mill.

Power has been trying for years to get the province to look into specific alleged puppy mills that she has uncovered, including a recent complaint about alleged animal cruelty by a breeder in Hamilton. 

She said there have been numerous complaints to Animal Welfare Services but that breeder is still operating. 

"They can do something right now if they choose to, they don't need this new law," Power said. "They already have animal cruelty laws on the books."

The government should be recognized for acknowledging the puppy mill problem in the province, said Camille Labchuck, executive director of advocacy group Animal Justice.

"That is a good first step, but this bill, frankly, will do little to nothing to change any operations of any puppy mill in Ontario," she said. 

She said without a dog licensing regime, the proposed puppy mill laws "will be impossible to enforce." 

"The problem is, in large part, that we don't know where puppy mills are operating and that they're not licensed or overseen by the government," Labchuk said.

"How can inspectors ever go in and inspect a puppy mill to see if they're complying with the laws if we have no idea where they are?"

A licensing regime would allow the government to inspect the places it has approved, revoke licences for any in violation and investigate those that are not approved, she said.

The government is also considering banning "medically unnecessary" procedures for dogs and cats such as declawing, debarking, tail docking and ear cropping.

Kerzner said the province will begin consulting on those issues in the new year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2023.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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