All shelters in Quebec, like any other pet establishment, stand to be inspected by Anima Quebec.
November 2006, MONTREAL – Once a six-year-old pianist at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, 30 year broadcast journalist and 20 year CFCF news anchor Mutsumi Takahashi on her website says she plays piano to her dogs to help maintain her on-air poise.
Serene as she seems, Takahashi makes no secret of caring about animals, and of being frustrated at perennial ineffective Quebec humane law enforcement.
On the evenings of August 27-29, 2006 Takahashi introduced Puppies for Profit, a three-part series by CFCF reporter Annie DeMelt that exposed the recent rapid growth of the Quebec puppy mill industry.
“Why is Quebec the puppy mill capital of Canada?” Takahashi asked Anima Quebec executive Joan Clark, Montreal SPCA executive director Pierre Barnotti and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council Canada executive director Louis McCann.
Their discussion flushed into the open a running dispute over just who can, or should, enforce Quebec humane laws – but brought it no closer to resolution.
Founded in 1869, the Montreal SPCA historically claimed the mandate but lacked the budget, the inspectors and the prosecutors to reach often or far beyond the Montreal suburbs.
Regional humane societies that tried to bring prosecutions in the mid-1990s complained of Montreal SPCA interference, as Barnotti economically strengthened the organization and sought to consolidate authority.
Commercial dog breeders exploited the conflict.
The Quebec government eventually became convinced of the need to establish an independent province-wide animal law enforcement authority.
This might have paralleled the establishment of the provincial wildlife law enforcement agency some 30 years earlier, in place of wardens hired by local consortiums of landowners organized under hunting club umbrellas. But existing agencies were not eager to take on humane law enforcement. Animal advocates were reluctant to see the job entrusted to the provincial agriculture department. And the Quebec National Assembly hesitated to fund a new agency that many members felt could be funded with donations.
Creating Anima Quebec under agriculture department auspices was the resulting compromise. Like the Montreal SPCA and regional humane societies, Anima Quebec is a nonprofit corporation – but structured to include board representatives from the pet trade. Anima Quebec received a provincial subsidy of about $150,000 Canadian for each of its first three years, but is expected to raise additional funds. It employs four inspectors.
But the Montreal SPCA, with rapidly rising revenues under Barnotti’s tenure, now has an annual budget of over $9 million, already has nine inspectors. Barnotti told the CFCF audience and has offered to train 25 more to cover all of Quebec.
More still are needed. Barnotti emphasized, pointing out that Ontario has 231 humane inspectors.
“You don’t build up a police force overnight,” Clark said.
Clark, an attorney and author, served as the Montreal SPCA board president for 17 years preceding Barnotti’s tenure.
During the Clark years the Montreal SPCA maintained friendly relations with dog and cat breed fanciers, struggled to shake a reputation as one of the last bastions of English-speaking dominion in Quebec, held the Montreal animal control contract, and killed more than five times as many dogs and cats per 1,000 Montreal residents than are killed now by the present animal control contractor, Berger Blanc, the Montreal SPCA and all other local humane societies combined.
Formed in 1983, Berger Blanc won the Montreal Urban Community animal control contract, covering 14 cities, by underbidding the Montreal SPCA in early 1994.
Barnotti responded by escalating Montreal SPCA promotion of low-cost pet sterilization, adoptions and involvement in high-profile anti-cruelty law enforcement.
“This has been my battle for the past 13 years.” Barnotti told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Obviously the voice of the industry speaks louder than that of animal lovers. The Quebec government has chosen to create a paragovernmental agency called Anima Québec, on the board of which sits prominently a representative of the pet industry, ” McCann, “who among his members counts puppy mill operators,” Barnotti charged. “To the Quebec government, the pet industry represents over a billion dollars a year, generated by the possession of pets from puppy mills. Correcting the problem equals closing a lot of the pet sources, and this scares the government.”
McCann, a Montreal SPCA inspector during the Joan Clark regime, left the organization before Barnotti was hired.
“PIJAC Canada stands on record in full support of the new Quebec animal protection legislation and of Anima Quebec,” McCann responded. “PIJAC Canada is also on record for supporting a proposed regulation that would call for the mandatory registration of all commercial establishments operating in Quebec that deal with cats and dogs. This regulation has not seen the light yet”.
McCann noted that the PIJAC Canada position was in opposition to the positions of “a handful of dog breeders.”
But Barnotti is scarcely the only critic who alleges that the PIJAC Canada influence within Anima Quebec is holding back law enforcement. A furious letter from Catherine Bégin of the Lost and Found Pet Network in Laval prompted ANIMAL PEOPLE to ask former Montreal SPCA board member Anne Streeter, no Barnotti fan, for her perspective.
“They turn a blind eye to the most outrageous puppy mill situations,” Streeter charged, “but have inspected the SPCA Monteregie four times, at the request of a disgruntled ex-employee, the Sherbrooke SPCA, and a well-run small independent shelter. Their deliberations are confidential so no one knows what they have done.
“SPCA Monteregie founder Linda Robertson, myself, and two others met with Brome-Missisquoi MNA Pierre Paradis a couple of weeks ago,” Streeter continued. “Paradis,” a member of the Quebec National Assembly since 1980 and Quebec environment minister 1989-1994, “understands the issues and gave us quite a bit of time. We discussed the intolerable situation, the underground economy, the lack of registration for breeders, and the vast sums of money going into government coffers (from pet-related sales taxes) with nothing returned to the animals. We asked if the file could be removed from the agriculture department Paradis said it could be done, agreeing that agriculture was the worst possible place for it. We all agreed that Public Security would be a better fit.”
Replied McCann, “As a member of the Anima Quebec board, my responsibilities are focused on financing the new association. I am not party to the work of the inspection committee, nor do I have any doings with inspectors and carrying out inspections. All official inspections are carried out by government-appointed inspectors, without any interference by board members.
“One thing is sure,” McCann added. “All shelters in Quebec, like any other pet establishment, stand to be inspected by Anima Quebec. Some shelters,” McCann mentioned, “were inspected to see if they could meet the requirements to become housing facilities for animals seized by Anima Quebec. I am not aware of any shelters shutting down as a result of Anima Quebec operations,” McCann continued. “The SPA de la Mauricie shelter in Trois-Rivières was closed by the government’s health and safety department, as it posed a threat to the animals and employees due to the presence of mold and fungus. It has since reopened with a brand new facility.”
Anima Quebec has in fact raided puppy mills, beginning by seizing 23 adult German shepherds from an alleged illegal breeder in La Plaine on March 31, 2005.
Cheryl Cornaccia of the Montreal Gazette saw that as an overdue new beginning.
“For years, Quebec has been seen as one of the worst places in North America for animal welfare,” Cornaccia recounted. “Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Alberta have all passed tougher animal welfare laws and put up substantial amounts of provincial money to bust puppy mills. Quebec has done little but sit on the fence – and on a package of tough animal welfare laws that were first introduced in the National Assembly in 1993, ” passed in January 2005 as the law now cited as P-42.
Anima Quebec director Huguette Lepine told Cornaccia that the agency is working slosely with the two professional orders that representing Quebec veterinarians, to enlist and train vets and vet techs to perform inspections and lay charges under P-42.
Barnotti points out that the Montreal SPCA already has vets and vet techs capable of doing the job – but for more than 100 years it mostly did not.
By Merritt Clifton