January 15, 2013 - 4:26 PM
The tragic reality of puppy mills in the Vernon area was revealed to Vernon city council yesterday, accompanied by a way to put an end to them.
We've all looked into the shiny eyes of a neglected puppy on animal rights commercials, but what many might not be aware of is the prevalence of puppy mills in Vernon's backyard.
Wendy McIntyre with the Okanagan Small Dog Rescue Society was part of a delegation that spoke to council Monday afternoon, and said puppy mills are "rampant" in the area. She said they stay under the radar and pack up their operations when they get wind of an investigation.
Local resident Gina Son, the other half of the delegation, asked council to pass a ban that would prohibit pet stores from selling live animals bred at puppy mills, including cats and rabbits.
Such a ban was implemented in Richmond, B.C., the first city in Canada to do so. Many states south of the border have passed similar bans.
Son said puppy mills are legal in Canada, and have to be registered. However, the standard of care is quite low, and often not upheld at all.
"Dogs live in cages, often in the minimum legal space allowed. Females are bred as frequently as possible, and when they are no longer able to produce, they are discarded," Son said. "It is no life for man's best friend."
Health problems abound. Infectious diseases, including canine parvovirus, kennel cough, parasites and mange are widespread in puppy mills due to the lack of care and close quarters. Often, Son said, cages are stacked on top of each other, allowing urine and feces to trickle into the cages below. Genetic defects due to over breeding are also common.
Son said customers unknowingly buy their pets from puppy mills every year with the assumption the animal came from a responsible breeder. She cautioned against purchasing dogs off internet ads, a practice that has become common-place in today's society.
"No matter how convincing the site is, the reality could be hundreds of dogs warehoused for breeding," she said. "Never, ever buy a puppy online."
People can't trust the ethics of pet stores either. Son said pet store animals are treated like commodities, no different from any other product in a store.
"Puppies are raised with low-cost production methods, sold to a broker, and delivered to retail stores."
A bylaw prohibiting the sale of animals from puppy mills in pet stores is a way to lessen the animal cruelty taking place in Vernon, and could set an example for the rest of the country.
Coun. Catherine Lord wondered if council had the authority to ban the sale of animals in stores, and chief administrative officer Will Pearce said staff would look into the matter.
Coun. Juliette Cunningham was surprised the issue hasn't had more attention at the provincial level, and said efforts must be made to address the source of the problem—the mills, not just the stores who bring them business.
McIntyre told InfoTel News the battle against puppy mills is one she is tired of fighting.
"The puppies that come out of there are abused. They're not socialized. They're terrified of life," she said.
She says reporting puppy mills is a way to dissolve their secrecy and put them on the radar. She urges the public to watch for signs of puppy mills and to report suspicious activity.
McIntyre believes the way to convince politicians to pass regulations on puppy mills is by showing them the financial savings.
"The way I feel you have to hit them is by money," she says, noting an operator who made $100,000 which he didn't report.
Mayor Rob Sawatzky told InfoTel News the request will be looked at by city staff, including bylaw, planning and development departments. Additionally, he suspects the city's lawyers will also be involved.
"It's part of a great thing in community when you see people who take the time to champion things like this," Sawatzky says. "We're busy with the day to day."
He says staff will be looking closely at the work done in Richmond to help guide a potential bylaw in Vernon.
McIntyre says Vernon's decision on the matter is an important one.
"If Vernon says no, the other municipalities will follow suit."
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013