In our own backyard: why puppy mills are still a problem

Puppy mills are a heartbreaking reality in many parts of the world. But in Ontario, many puppy mills still operate with little regulation or oversight. This has led to some truly horrific cases of animal abuse and neglect that have gone unnoticed by authorities for years, but now more people are starting to take notice and push for change. 

In the Ottawa Valley, numerous kennels have been found to breach animal welfare standards, and many alleged puppy mills continue their practices. The question is, why? The answer can be broken down into two issues, lack of bylaws and enforcement.

First off, what is a puppy mill? 

A puppy mill is considered by most to be a commercial dog breeding facility that houses large numbers of dogs in unsanitary and overcrowded conditions. These facilities often fail to provide adequate care for the animals, including proper nutrition, veterinary treatment, and socialization. Puppy mills are known for their inhumane and unethical practices, such as overbreeding and mass production of puppies for sale.

The legal rights of animals 

In accordance with the criminal code of Canada, the act of animal cruelty is strictly prohibited and not tolerated. Willfully causing animals to suffer from neglect, pain or injury is a criminal offence. 

Animal welfare in Canada is enforced by police services, Provincial and Territorial Societies for the Prevention of cruelty to animals. Ministries of agriculture are also responsible in cases for the enforcement of animal cruelty laws. 

In Ontario, Animal Welfare Services (AWS), within the Ministry of the Solicitor General is responsible for enforcing the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. 

According to the province, calls made to AWS are received through the Ontario Animal Protection Call Centre (OAPCC), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

AWS will step in if a pet, farm animal, or wild animal in captivity is in pain, injured, sick, suffering or abused, or lacks proper care, water, food, or shelter. But in practice, a local animal rights advocate with Stop the Mills, Donna Powers, isn’t so sure AWS is doing what it’s supposed to. 

Provincial regulators – do they help or hinder? 

In recent months, the Township of Whitewater came under fire for their kenneling bylaws, or in Powers’ perspective, lack thereof. 

In recent years, a dog kennel allegedly operating as an illegal puppy mill on Foresters Falls Road has faced accusations that owner Tim Hubert was mistreating dogs and lacked a proper license. 

In a public meeting of council regarding the alleged puppy mill in January, several people spoke out against Hubert. 

“This mill has been on our radar for a long time,” said Lisa Cundel, an animal rights advocate who rescues dogs in Petawawa. “This mill had been brought to the attention of this council many times. It has been reported to the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and PAWS (People’s Animal Welfare Society) many times since it opened in 2019 and at its previous location. Witness statement and pictures of the condition of the dogs taken by someone who was there have been submitted many times to this council, to the OPP and nothing has been done.”

When it comes to kennels and breeders, Powers said that regulatory laws are different because they are governed by municipalities. 

“In Ontario, there’s no regulations for breeders. No regulations,” she said. “Probably 60 per cent of breeding kennels [in Ontario] are not licensed.” 

These and other enforcement-related concerns may be the reason why unlicensed kennels, such as the one on Forester Falls Road, have continued operating without facing the consequences.

Powers said that she knows of many other instances where PAWS was called to puppy mills and animal neglect situations and “completely failed to protect the animals.”

She referenced the recent rescue of 38 dogs in Brudenell, Lyndoch, and Raglan as an example of this alleged negligence. According to Powers, the OPP had to call Riverview Rescue to help save the dogs because PAWS hindered their rescue efforts. 

“At the end of the day, it’s the animals that pay,” Powers said. 

In an interview with the Valley Gazette regarding kenneling bylaws and the recent kennel zoning debate on Forester Falls Road, Chief Administrative Officer Ivan Burton said that Whitewater Township is taking a “kennel regulation” approach to tackling puppy mills rather than an “animal welfare approach.”

“The provincial Ministry of the Solicitor General … they are the ones that are responsible to ensure that animals are being looked after properly, and not only kennels, but animals in houses and cows in fields,” he said. 

Burton said that the township does play a role in animal welfare by virtue of issuing kennel licenses and conducting inspections. 

“What we’re hoping to do with our new bylaw is define our role in the welfare piece so that if we observe what we think is a matter of welfare, we will direct that to the Ministry of the Solicitor General,” he said, confirming that rather than acting as an enforcer of animal welfare, the township hopes to act more as a watchdog. 

At the time of the interview, Burton did not have on hand the number of licensed kennels in the area that the Township regulates. 

When asked why, specifically, enforcement action was not taken against Hubert, who had been in violation of several township bylaws, including operating a dog breeding kennel unlicensed for many years, Burton said the goal was to gain the owner’s “voluntary compliance.” 

“We were made aware that a kennel existed and did not comply with our bylaws. We contacted the owner and advised them of that,” he said. “The first step in any bylaw administration or enforcement is to try to find voluntary compliance.” 

Part of the reason why the municipality seeks voluntary compliance, according to Burton, is to avoid court costs associated with bylaw enforcement. 

“Yeah we could issue fines and take people to court, but it costs the municipality lots of money,” he said. “We tried to speak with the owner and ask them to voluntarily comply. In this case, that’s what the owner has done.”

Hubert has since been refused zoning for a kennel by the township, and Burton said that they have since pursued enforcement of the matter. Hubert has been asked to cease his dog breeding operations within a “sufficient timeframe.”

 When asked how long Hubert would be given to cease operations, and if the township will be reinspecting his property to ensure compliance, Burton said they are “working through that,” but that their Bylaw Enforcement Officer is working with the owner to rehouse the animals.  

The Township of Whitewater is currently reviewing their bylaws, and changes are expected in late April. 

Powers said she submitted a comprehensive review of the Township’s kenneling bylaws to Burton, hoping she would see meaningful changes at a local level. 

“There has to be a genuine statement that this will not be tolerated,” Powers said regarding unlicensed kennels and puppy mills. “They have to put in place the mechanisms to enforce meaningful legislation.”