Stronger animal cruelty laws are needed to deal with puppy mills

Puppy mills are not illegal in Canada and there is little preventing them from operating.
Puppy mills are not illegal in Canada and there is little preventing them from operating. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Sadly, puppy mills are nothing new. We keep hearing horrific stories of animal abuse and cruelty on puppy farms and yet they continue to operate.

Last week, 66 malnourished and abused dogs were seized from an alleged puppy mill in Langley, B.C. The B.C. SPCA called it “one of the largest puppy mill seizures in the province.”

The damage done to most of these dogs was devastating. Not only were they living in appalling conditions, but most of them have serious illnesses: anything from broken bones to missing ears and eyes.

Given the frequent horror stories and uncovering of these types of operations, what kind of laws are there to outlaw, or at the very least strictly regulate, puppy mills?

Animal rights organizations have been fighting for many years to get rid of puppy mills. However, they are not illegal in Canada and there is little preventing them from operating.

This problem of puppy mills runs across the country. Quebec is known as the “puppy mill capital“ in Canada, according to the Humane Society International. The HSI Animal Rescue Team has helped the Quebec government rescue more than 700 mistreated dogs from puppy mills since 2011.

Has government done anything to address the problem of animal cruelty in Canada?

The federal government amended the Criminal Code to strengthen the cruelty to animals legislation ss. 444 to 447. Bill S-203 was passed into law in April 2008. It was the first time since 1892 (with minor changes having taken place in the 1950s) that these sections were amended.

What did the bill change?

Animal cruelty offences could now be punished as a hybrid offence, meaning the Crown could decide whether to pursue charges under summary conviction (lesser charge) for which a person could face up to a $10,000 fine, up to 18 months in jail, or both. Or, the Crown could charge the person with an indictable (more serious) offence, which carries a punishment of up to five years in jail.

The law also allows judges to ban the offender from owning an animal.

Before the bill became law, animal cruelty offenders mostly received slaps on the wrist from the justice system. First-time offenders usually faced community service and writing letters of apology. If they re-offended, then they could face jail time.

While the changes were welcome and necessary, they didn’t have a huge impact.

Animal cruelty offences are still considered property offences, crimes of neglect are still difficult to prosecute, and there is no direct offence for brutal crimes against animals. Furthermore, training animals to fight other animals for profit is still legal. Worst of all, there is nothing in the new or old legislation that prohibits or puts limits on puppy mills, such as having the SPCA audit them regularly to ensure dogs are kept in humane conditions, enforcing standards on how these dogs are to be kept, limiting the amount of dogs a commercial dog breeder may keep, limiting how many litters one dog can have, and more.

As a result, many animal protection groups, such as the Canadian Federation of Human Societies and the International Fund for Animal Welfare opposed this bill, because of these major shortcomings.

In 2009 MP Mark Holland introduced a private member’s bill, bill C-229, that would have dealt with a lot of the shortcomings of Bill C-203, such as making it an offence to kill an animal brutally and viciously and making it an offence to train animals to fight other animals. Unfortunately, that bill never saw the light of day.

Isn’t it time Canadian animal cruelty law finally dealt with the serious problem of puppy mills? After all, whom else can dogs depend on for protection from abuse?

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