A year after more than 500 dogs were seized from Paws-R-Us, a puppy mill near Shawville, Que., some advocates say Quebec's animal cruelty laws don't go far enough to close the remaining 2,000 estimated puppy mills in the province.
The seizure was the largest of its kind in Quebec history. Today, 30 of the rescued dogs and their caregivers are meeting for a reunion.
In 2011, Quebec tightened its animal protection laws and boosted its efforts to control the province's increasing problem with puppy mills.
The province was given the power to close kennels where abuse was happening, increase fines and set new standards for animal euthanasia.
No jail time means puppy mills won't stop, some say
But people lobbying for tougher laws claim that without jail sentences for repeat offenders, mills will keep operating.
France Turcotte is caring for Lucy, a bulldog rescued from Paws-R-Us. At first, Turcotte said the dog wouldn't walk at all.
"The little things that we don't see in our pets, that they don't react to because it's normal — the sound of a car, the sound of the leaves rustling from the wind — is something that's all new to a dog that's from a puppy mill," Turcotte said.
"Here we have dogs that spent, eight, nine years in a puppy mill that are learning to walk, to run, to react to people and new smells,… so it's a big step."
'The laws have to be changed,' rescuer says
Turcotte owns Valley Boxer and Mastiff Rescue in Sainte-Cécile-de-Masham, Que., with her husband, Gilbert Lemay.
She rehabilitated 14 dogs seized from Paws-R-Us, including five puppies. All of them were later adopted, but not Lucy. Another dog had to be euthanized.
"These laws for me are pre-historic. They're antique. They're ancient," she said. "There is no reason why I should be running a sanctuary and nobody has come here to inspect my facility. I have three acres; I could easily be running a puppy mill. … I want someone to come here and inspect. I want someone to come unannounced.
"The laws have to be changed. They're not good enough."
Rebecca Aldworth heads Humane Society International Canada, the agency that seized the dogs from Paws-R-Us.
She said puppy mill breeders need lifetime bans and more. The owners of Paws-R-Us got a two-year ban from owning more than three pets or operating a kennel.
"I've been into puppy mills where we have found dead and dying animals in the same cages," she said. "When we have the worst kinds of cruelty and neglect, we have to be able to offer jail time."