When Dean Will met Cassie, his cairn terrier, she could hardly see him for all the matted fur covering her eyes. She had worms, her teeth were rotting and she was hobbled by long untrimmed nails curling under her paws.
Will says Cassie, who was raised with several other poorly kept dogs in a barn outside Colborne, Ontario, was half her current weight when he bought her. After vet visits and a special diet Cassie did bounce back, though she remains unusually small for her breed and in need of dental work.
Appalled by what he saw in Colborne, Will phoned an inspector who covers the area for the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (OSPCA). He was told that Cassie’s breeder already had three prior convictions for animal cruelty.
“How can this person have three offences and still be operating?” Will asked. “God knows what’s going on in that barn.”
As a Queen’s Park staffer and former assistant on political campaigns, Will took his frustration to the Ontario legislature.
Working with fellow Beacher Barbara Nielson of the Cairn Terrier Club and Robin Hall of Westies in Need, he helped to gather 18,000 signatures – 3,200 in the Beach alone – on a petition calling on the government to ban puppy and kitten mills in Ontario.
In response, Ontario’s minister of community safety Madeleine Meilleur said new animal cruelty laws passed in 2009 do give police and OSPCA inspectors the power to protect animals from badly run breeding facilities. Meilleur also noted that Ontario cities have the power to license animal breeding.
But Will says the minister’s reply was little comfort, knowing that Cassie’s breeder is likely still mistreating animals.
“I wish the politicians could see what that barn smells like,” he said.
Scott Sylvia, an OSPCA inspector who works in the Toronto area, says police and the OSCPA do permanently ban irresponsible breeders from owning animals.
But before 2009, Ontario’s animal cruelty laws were “very antiquated,” he said. While Sylvia is not aware of the specific charges against Cassie’s breeder, he said there would be no way to ban her from breeding if she was convicted under the pre-2009 laws.
While the OSCPA’s 80 inspectors can be stretched thin, sometimes driving six hours to a call, Sylvia said they have had real success now that OSPCA inspectors are police-trained and Ontario’s worst animal abusers face permanent bans and a fine of up to $60,000 or two years in jail.
Cities have also stepped up their bylaws, he said, noting Toronto now requires all pet stores to source their animals from shelters and animal rescue operations.
As good as it is, Sylvia says Ontario’s legislation could still be better, and he welcomed Will’s petition.
Sylvia agrees that leaving breeding licences up to cities could create a patchwork across the province.
“It should be treated as any other business,” he said, with provincial standards for anyone who owns a breeding female.
While the term “puppy mill” conjures up images of big barns packed with abused animals, Sylvia said it’s far more common to see animals abused by someone with a single litter.
And lately, Sylvia said a lot of problems come not from breeders but from brokers who buy animals in rural areas and spend little money looking after them before they sell them anonymously on websites like Kijiji or Craigslist.
Sylvia’s top advice to would-be pet owners is to actually go and see where their animals are bred, as Will did with Cassie.
“If you can’t see where the puppies are being bred, there’s something wrong there,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re getting, and once you buy that animal it’s your responsibility.”
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I think all breeding of puppies should be banned until there are no more dogs in any shelters across Canada. In my opinion, breeding puppies and breeding anything for the purpose of selling is like prostitution. A profit from animals breeding (forcibly ) making the mommy, who is usually under a year old the first time they are bred, is cruelty to the animal.
Gloria – I doubt that there is any legal way to “ban” all breeding of puppies, and most service dogs (guide dogs, etc.) need to be trained using the appropriate species of puppy, right from the start. A lack of puppies would be a disaster for people needing these dogs to be trained to help them live.
Better laws and better enforcement. Yes!
BUT as for animals in shelters, I think we can all agree with Bob Barker: Have your pet spayed or neutered.
Brian, they have trained all kinds of breeds to be service dogs, drug dogs, you name it. You’re right that it will be near impossible to ban the breeding. Puppy mills should be banned and pets not sold in pet stores. Every time I go to the flea market here, there are at least 5-6 vans with the back end opened and they are selling puppies (or trying to). The urge to grab them all and run is overwhelming..lol. I have not been there for a few months, but even the pet store owner here is in court battle for running a puppy mill. iIt’s disgusting.
Actually, my 2 favourite family pets came from stores – my brother bought a purebred Keeshond from a store (in 1977). He was a wonderful dog. Then until last fall, I had a cat that I got from a neighbour who was a vet – he was a Siamese originally sold in a PJs store, but the family found him to be too noisy and demanding, and gave him to the vet.
Banning store sales might just drive the worst people underground to sell pets on the internet, or at the flea mkt. sales you mention. Too many bad breeders are out there, and too many purebreds are inbred because of unscrupulous people – enforcement and education of consumers need to be stepped up, at the least.
Reputable breeders who do the proper genetic testing, who show their animals, and who breed for the betterment of the breed, are not the same catagory. There is a distinct market for that, and not everyone frankly wants a dog that’s a big question mark.
These are people who often have one, maybe two breeds of dogs. They breed single breeds (no cross-breeds). And no matter how many dogs they own, even if it’s 12 dogs, they all live inside the home, and are these breeders’ love and joy and family.
I don’t dispute the need for better legislation or the fact that people should adopt, but adoption isn’t the right choice for everyone. Not everyone has the time and patience to take in an abused, emotionally/physically scarred dog.
Great article and a real eye opener. I used to live near Colborne and I have a rescue dog from a shelter near there – she lives with us here in the Beach. I would love to hear more about this if Dean wants to get in touch for a coffee – I so applaud what you have done.
People are going to buy pets and there is nothing you can do about that. The idiocy of the whole thing is this, most peoples line of thinking is that of punish the people doing the right thing and make it harder to do the right thing. What needs to be done is make mistreatment of animals public, publish pictures of those convicted, huge punishments making doing it wrong expensive and unattainable. Show people how to breed properly and help them do it right. They have banned pit bulls and yet the biting of children and attacks still happen, you just don’t hear about it. All i hear about it how to stop them from advertising, the best thing a bad breeder can do is advertise, go and check them out and nail them not stop them from saying “here i am, come get me”. Try thinking, you got a brain, use it.