Everything seemed calm as Heather Hill walked toward the barn. But once the doors opened, the smell of rotten flesh and the barking of 400 dogs proved otherwise.
Puppies were kept in groups of about eight, in small rooms and forced to stand on metal grates allowing their excrement to fall through.
“It was more disgusting than you can ever imagine. She knew nothing about the breeds.”
This is how licensed cat breeder Heather Hill recalled her experience discovering a puppy mill located in Quebec.
Toronto City Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker has campaigned against puppy mills. In September 2011, the city passed a bylaw that he initiated; it ensures that all puppies and kittens sold by pet stores in the city must come from shelters. The only other Canadian city to pass this legislation was Richmond, B.C., in 2011.
“We’re stopping dogs from being tortured and abused in evil disgusting ways,” he said. “And we’re protecting members of the public from buying faulty merchandise.”
Liz White, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, explained that in puppy mills dogs are bred as often as possible.
“You don’t care who breeds with whom, so you breed a father with a daughter, mother to a son, so if there are genetic issues then those are often compounded,” she said. “In most operations… in order to get the dogs to market quickly, they are taken away from their birthplace very early on, probably around six weeks.”
Once De Baeremaeker learned what was happening in puppy mills he decided to act.
“I look at animals and say, ‘Nobody is going to speak this dog or this cat,’ so they need people to speak on their behalf,” he said. “So I’ve tried my whole life to protect animals wherever I could. I became a city councillor. I heard about this legislation. I moved a motion. And it got passed.
The bylaw has also had an impact on the Toronto Humane Society according to Zana Ellis, the shelter manager.
Since it was passed on Sept. 22, 2011, Ellis has noticed that between September and December, they have adopted out 95 more dogs and 117 more cats than they did in the same time frame in 2010.
Hill was excited about the legislation as well.
“I think it’s fantastic,” she said, “because people can go there (to pet stores) and get a kitty or a puppy that has been neglected or left abandoned who deserves a good home who may not have the money to come to someone like myself.”
Ellis, of the Toronto Humane Society, is pleased that pet owners now have to look at adoption more carefully and critically.
“You go to a pet store, and if you have questions, they’ll answer the questions,” she said. “Which is fine, but maybe you don’t have any questions, or you think you don’t have any questions. Here it is all application based.” She said the applications look at everything from how to house-train a puppy to what kind of collar to use.
Although he feels he has some work to do diminishing the need for puppy mills, De Baeremaeker said he has begun to make a difference.
“There are … lots of people still selling in flea markets and on Kijiji; so we have lots of work to do,” De Baeremaeker said. “We have stopped the demand for some of those puppy mills.”