‘Unethical breeders’ leaving dogs to die. Ontario city wants tougher law

Mike Mulick knows all about the ongoing issue of pet abandonment in Canada.

The manager of animal services with the City of Brampton says the number of animals coming into its shelter remains steady, but the amount of people willing to adopt is dwindling.

However, as he recently told Ontario lawmakers, a “threshold” is being crossed by unethical breeders, which has advocates calling for enhancements to a bill that just became law.

“We’re crossing a threshold where unethical breeders are now abandoning new moms and their pups outside at an increasing rate, leaving them to die once they’re no longer of value to them,” Mulick told lawmakers last month.

“To date this year with the City of Brampton, we’ve responded to two such cases. While my staff have rescued many abandoned puppies before it was too late, they’ve also had to recover deceased dogs that in the days prior were posted on classified ads.”

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Issue not unique to Brampton

The committee Mulick shared that story with was meeting on the government’s Preventing Unethical Puppy Sales (PUPS) Act, which received Royal Assent on June 6.

Brampton sounded the alarm earlier this spring over dogs being found in “deplorable” condition, but Mulick told Global News recently the two cases he shared with the committee caused “particular concern” given the apparent intent was to avoid any responsibility.

“We’ve had breeders come in and bring litters. … We’ve had them tied up to our front door at the shelter,” Mulick said.

“But in this case, it was very clear that it was done with intent to disregard these puppies in a manner which they weren’t going to be found.”

Riggs, a 10-month-old Mastiff, recently came into Brampton Animal Services and is available adoption. The manager of the city’s animal services division is sounding the alarm over unethical breeders who are abandoning dogs in obscure places, leaving them for dead.

City of Brampton photo

Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice – a national animal law advocacy organization – said the issue in Brampton is not unique to that city.

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Following the high demand for pets during the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, back to work and other factors have led to a drop demand, resulting in some breeders abandoning dogs outside or giving them to shelters, Labchuk said.

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Shelters have been warning they’ve been under strain, and the issue hasn’t eased. In fact, the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society has seen a 16 per cent increase in intakes this year when compared to 2023, said Sonya Reichel, vice president of shelter operations.

The area that’s growing the fastest, which Reichel said is “quite alarming to be honest,” is the number of dogs and puppies that are coming in.

Click to play video: 'Canadian pet rescue organizations overwhelmed by surge in pet abandonment'

Canadian pet rescue organizations overwhelmed by surge in pet abandonment

She said there are two reasons why that’s happening: pet owners who can no longer afford their pets or have accidental litters, and breeders who find themselves no longer being able to control or manage their situation.

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“In many cases, they have very poor condition. They need emergency medical care. They need dental treatments. They need 24-hour around the clock care to ensure they can recover or get to a state of being able to be adopted into new families,” Reichel said.

“It’s really quite harrowing for the teams. It’s also incredibly expensive on our resources because they need emergency veterinary care, but it’s just so devastating when we end up losing those lives after fighting so hard for them.”

Current laws in Ontario allow authorities, if they become aware of a puppy mill or unethical breeder, to lay charges if animals are found in distress, Labchuk said.

Tips from the public are a driving factor behind enforcement, Labchuk added, but said the chances of those tips happening are “extremely low.”

Click to play video: 'Rescuing pups left out in the bitter cold'

Rescuing pups left out in the bitter cold

So, one of the solutions her organization is seeking is to require breeders in Ontario be registered and licensed, she added. However, PUPS makes no mention of it.

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“There’s no government oversight because there’s no licensing and registration, and the government can’t even track who’s doing dog breeding,” Labchuck said.

“That results in poor conditions and puppy mills and backyard breeding operations. It also results in a flood of animals coming onto the marketplace that nobody wants to buy, and causing this crisis in the shelters and rescue system.”

PUPS Act introducing minimum penalties for puppy mills

When the province introduced the PUPS Act last year, Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner said that it would “ensure” the safety of dogs and other animals.

PUPS will amend the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS Act) to stop harmful dog breeding practices by outlawing methods like breeding a female dog that is less than a year old.

Under the new legislation, the province will introduce minimum penalties of $10,000 for those operating or facilitating a puppy mill, and $25,000 if these violations result in the death of a dog.

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Click to play video: 'Some Canadians abandoning pets due to financial pressures'

Some Canadians abandoning pets due to financial pressures

At the committee Mulick appeared at, Labchuck spoke about the need for licensing and said members, including government representatives, were “extremely interested” in the idea.

“I commend the government for taking some steps, however minor they might be, but it’s really important at this stage that the government considers what it can do next,” she said.

“The fortunate thing is that under the PAWS Act … the government has the authority and the power to do this without passing any new legislation. They can just go in via the regulations and they can create a licensing regime, and they can create standards of care that all dogs being bred must experience. Those two tools would go a really long way to addressing this problem.”

Chelsea McGee, a spokesperson for Kerzner, said in a statement several Ontario municipalities currently operate a licensing regime for dog breeders and kennels, and the ministry with continue to work with them on that issue.

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PUPs “will also allow the province to help develop regulations to set conditions that must be met when selling or transferring a dog and establish regulations for record-keeping,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Parks Canada seeing ‘three-fold increase’ in abandoned pets at GTA park'

Parks Canada seeing ‘three-fold increase’ in abandoned pets at GTA park

Mulick said while “great first steps” are being taken with PUPS, it could be strengthened by requiring mandatory socialization time with other dogs.

“If they don’t get that opportunity to be socialized, they end up at the shelter because the owner can’t control their behavior or they’re not interacting well with other dogs,” he said.

At the end of the day, Mulick said those wanting a pet should consider adoption, but if they choose to buy from a breeder to do their homework to ensure they’re reputable.

“People looking for puppies need to make sure, regardless of this legislation, that they’re getting a dog that’s well socialized, making sure that they meet the parents,” he said.

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“There also needs to be an onus on people to make sure they’re doing their due diligence when looking at a breeder, regardless of any laws that come into effect.”

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