New Quebec government body to tackle pet cruelty
MNA hopes to rid Quebec of reputation as puppy mill capital
"It came to a head during the election campaign," said committee chair Geoff Kelley, a Liberal MNA.
"We received a petition to the government with over 55,000 names on it. So it's something that resonates with a large number of people in the population."
Three major puppy mill busts in less than three months late last year coincided with the provincial election campaign.
The Agriculture Ministry formed the committee last week. It will examine the problems linked to pet welfare and propose short- and medium-term solutions that may include a regulation that would make the registration of all places where dogs are housed, sold, or bred mandatory in the province.
Representatives from veterinary and pet store associations will sit on the panel alongside government officials and animal welfare groups.
"Nobody's proud of the fact that Quebec has developed the reputation as the puppy mill capital of North America," said Kelley. "I hope everyone can work together and we can put this reputation behind us. The one thing I do know is we have to do better."
Hundreds of puppy mills set up in Montreal area
Rebecca Aldworth, director of animal programs with Humane Society International Canada, said clandestine puppy mills have been a concern for animal activists in the province for decades.
"The Montreal SPCA has files on over 800 mills operating in the Montreal area alone," she said.
"We know a lot of mills are setting up in agricultural areas because it's far easier to have large-scale commercial breeding operations in those areas. So we know that there are thousands of puppy mills operating in this province."
Alanna Devine of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said many of the province's breeding facilities are not doing anything illegal under current legislation.
However, she said they may still be providing animals with inadequate care.
"Substandard doesn't mean illegal," said Devine, acting director for the SPCA. "But we do see a lot of things that most people would consider unethical and inhumane."
Alongside a registration system, Aldworth and Devine agree on some simple changes that could halt the proliferation of puppy mills or lead to their closure in the province: increased penalties for mill owners, stepped-up enforcement and more funds for animal welfare associations.
"We obviously need a registration system, but registration itself is not going to change anything," Devine said.
"There needs to be funding to really increase the enforcement of the legislation. The legislation needs to be changed to have stronger penalties and also we need to provide definitions of standards of care."
Quebec animal rights groups like new Ontario law
Anima-Quebec, the non-profit organization set up by the province to enforce its legislation, has guidelines for breeders that outstrip current legislation but are not required by law. It has five inspectors, compared to nearly 300 in Ontario.
Quebec's animal rights groups would like to see the province develop animal welfare legislation more in line with the law passed by Ontario last November — possibly the strongest in the country.
Ontario's law includes fines of up to $60,000, a lifetime ownership ban on those who abuse animals, and a requirement for veterinarians to report suspected abuse and neglect.
Devine and Aldworth believe the government is sincere in its desire to change the current situation but hope it's also willing to act.
"The proof will be in what the provincial government agrees to," Aldworth said. "It's very important this panel is not just window dressing."