The chief animal protection officer for the New Brunswick SPCA is applauding the punishment handed down Monday to two people for operating puppy mills in the northern part of the province.

Ray Leblanc, of Saint-Basile, and Chantal Dufour, of St. Joseph de Madawaska, were each fined $1,200 after changing their pleas to guilty of separate incidents of failing to provide the necessary food, water, shelter and care to an animal.

Leblanc and Dufour were also restricted from breeding dogs for the next five years.

Denise Potvin believes the sentences will help send a message that the provincial government will not tolerate the mistreatment of animals.

'We are doing a lot better.' —Denise Potvin, chief animal protection officer, NB SPCA

"We are doing a lot better," she said. "We do have more work to go. We have to educate the people who operate pet establishments and we also have to educate the court system.

"This is new for the Crown prosecutors and for the judges and we're very pleased with the fine in this situation because it is double the minimum for a first offence."

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was amended in June 2010 to require inspections and licensing of pet establishments with more than five dogs over six months of age, including kennels, stores and shelters.

Increasing the minimum fine to $500, up from $168 was also a major step in cracking down on puppy mills, Potvin said.

The maximum fine is $10,000 and a prohibition from owning dogs.

People can also help by ensuring they ask to see licences when they buy pets from agencies, she said.

Authorities seized 47 sick dogs from Leblanc's property in January.

Forty dogs were seized from Dufour's property last October.