The Manitoba government has quietly suspended the licensing requirement for dog breeders in the province.

The decision was made about a year ago — not long after Manitoba's Animal Care Act was amended, requiring more licensing and regular inspections from animal breeders — CBC News has learned.

Kate McDonald, who lives in St. Clements, said her neighbour posted at least 40 online ads selling puppies in 2012.  They were all small breed and cash-only sales.

She didn't understand how her neighbour could make the sales without having a provincial license. It turns out it wasn't required anymore.

Wayne Lees, the province's chief provincial veterinarian officer, said there were problems with licensing inspections. His office contracted out inspections and found some inspectors applied very low standards.

And Lee said his office is too busy with animal welfare cases to take on licencing right now.

He said this issue is temporary but admits not being able to ask for a licence can make finding a good breeder more difficult.

"I recognize that's an issue right now," he said.

Carla Martinelli-Irvine works with the Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter that often takes in dogs previously used for breeding that are no longer profitable to breeders.

She said she’s seen dogs turn up from breeding operations in horrible conditions.

"They probably had six to seven litters by the time they were five years old. They had no medical care. There was literally cuts on their feet from the cage – the steel cage they had been placed in," said Martinelli-Irvine.

Last weekend, Manitoba Small Dog Rescue issued a call for help with veterinary care bills after 17 dogs arrived from one breeder.

Martinelli-Irvine said the province needs to fix the problems with licensing, rather than suspend the program entirely.

"Don’t give carte-blanche to everybody who has a dog," she said.

"Don’t give them that cart-blanche blanket."

Avoiding puppy mills

Dog breeder Cindy Mowez says Manitobans can avoid purchasing puppies raised in unsafe conditions by checking to see if they are registered first.

Mowez is registered with the Canadian Kennel Club and said her puppies "come with a life-time support."

She said she screens buyers and sells her bull-terrier puppies for about $2,000 each.

The high price covers health-testing for parent dogs and veterinary bills so she can offer a health-guarantee for the puppies. She said she was shocked that the province suspended licensing.

"I mean, there’s such a saturation out there of dogs. There’s got to be some kind of control," said Mowez.

She said the best thing you can do before buying a puppy is to do an inspection yourself. She advises going to where the puppy was born and seeing how its parents live.

Mowez and other dog-rescue officials said you should never purchase a puppy off-site.

With files from the CBC's Megan Benedictson