Most of the 14 seized dogs had health issues, according to the SPCA. ((CBC))

Three B.C. residents are facing criminal charges for allegedly running a puppy mill, but according to court documents the SPCA has been investigating the operation for several years.

Mel Gerling, Damara English and Patrick English, of the Lower Mainland, are each facing a Criminal Code charge of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal. They have also been charged under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act with causing an animal to be in distress.

The men were charged after  officers seized 14 dogs last September from a Chilliwack facility owned by Gerling, who also ran a Surrey pet store called Puppy Paradise.

B.C. SPCA spokeswoman Marcie Moriarty said callers had complained to the agency that the puppies' living area smelled and the dogs looked ill and filthy. When officers arrived, they were shocked by the condition of the dogs they seized.

"There were grooming issues, malnutrition, ear infection, excessively long nails —you name it — there was some issues," she said.

"We hope that these individuals, if they get convicted, they get a ban on owning, selling, caring for, dealing with animals."

Ongoing investigation of operations

This is not the first time that Gerling has been investigated by the SPCA, according to information contained in search warrant that was obtained by CBC News.

His breeding operations in Chilliwack and Maple Ridge have been under investigation by the B.C. SPCA since 2006.

According to the search warrant, two previous employees of his store approached the SPCA in 2009 with a cooler bag full of dead dogs and puppies, claiming some were alive when they were placed in a freezer at his Chilliwack breeding operation.

An investigation followed, leading to the seizure of some animals, but no charges were laid.

"This is a puppy mill, if you define a puppy mill where animals are bred repetitively for profit with little to no regard to their health or well-being and that's what happened in this case," said Moriarty

"This is the reason why we say you need to know where your animals come from if you're going to be buying them from a pet store."

In July 2010, Canada Customs stopped Gerling at the U.S. border for transporting 44 puppies in cages the SPCA claims were overcrowded, poorly ventilated, and without proper food or water.

Gerling didn't return a call for comment from CBC News.