MAPLETON – Township officials are putting a local farmer selling puppies out of his barn on notice.
Councillor Michael Martin raised the issue of unlicensed sales at the March 21 Mapleton council meeting, asking what action had been taken in response to public concerns about the illegal sale of dogs from properties in the township.
Stop the Mills, an animal advocacy organization headed by Donna Powers, has been posting to social media and sending emails to media and politicians about puppy mills operating in what she calls “puppy mill central,” an area including Wellington, Perth, Huron, Grey-Bruce and Dufferin counties, and the Township of Wellesley.
Although some kennels — such as those offering temporary boarding, training or breeding — are licensed throughout the county, Powers told the Advertiser “many licensed kennels are puppy mills” and operate solely to churn out a constant supply of dogs without any regard for humane treatment or their health.
“I know they’re concerned about one particular property. Do we have an update on it?” councillor Martin asked at the meeting.
CAO Manny Baron replied township staff have addressed the issue and will follow up with the farmer.
Baron told the Advertiser by phone on March 24 that the owner of a property on Wellington Road 86 (also known as Line 86) in Mapleton has been re-selling puppies raised in Perth County.
“What’s happening there is the individual is getting puppies, from what I do think is a puppy mill in Perth somewhere,” Baron said.
The township’s bylaw doesn’t allow reselling of puppies, he explained, saying staff have told the farmer, who doesn’t have a kennel licence, to stop selling.
“We take the approach of friendliness first and, quite frankly, I thought the property owner would have stopped based on … the nice warning we gave him, but then it turns out apparently he hasn’t,” Baron added.
Mapleton’s animal control officer visited the Line 86 property on March 19, after a complaint was called in.
The Sunday visit, Baron said, “wasn’t very well received … But anyway, it had to be done.”
The Advertiser visited the rural property on March 26 and spoke with Edgar Martin, who farms the land and owns the property.
He confirmed the unwelcome Sunday visit and said he was told to have the puppies gone by March 27 or police would be called.
Martin’s supplier, a Perth County resident who lives within a two-minute drive from Martin’s property, came to pick up the animals.
What happened to them after that, Martin doesn’t know, he said.
At least two puppies purchased from Martin have died in recent weeks of parvovirus, a highly contagious viral disease that can cause severe illness, particularly in young and unvaccinated dogs.
After the recent visit from Mapleton’s animal control officer, and a previous visit from the officer in December that shut him down for several weeks, Martin says he’s out of the business “for now.”
He was counting on the cash and said, “I guess I’ll have to figure something else out.”
Township staff will be sending a copy of its bylaw and a letter indicating that if Martin continues selling puppies, there will be fines.
Baron said there aren’t any other properties on the township’s radar, but he has “no doubt” the issue is widespread.
Martin told the Advertiser he began selling puppies supplied by Robert Penner last May, after another Mapleton farmer got out of the business.
“We knew [Penner] was doing this, so we asked him,” Martin explained.
In 2012, Penner was convicted of animal cruelty stemming from an Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigation that also resulted in 73 dogs being removed from Penner’s property.
The Advertiser reached Penner by phone on March 25.
After saying he wasn’t interested in speaking to a reporter, Penner denied supplying puppies to brokers.
“We help the local Mennonites re-home their dogs,” he said.
“I’ll put it this way,” he continued, “you’re not going to get the whole story.
“I place them, but uh, no, you go ahead and write your story, that’s fine. If I comment, it’ll just be twisted anyway.”
Penner hung up before more questions could be asked.
According to Martin, Penner handled all the communication; he took photos of the puppies, posted the ads online, and answered emails, texts and phone calls.
When a buyer was coming, Penner would call Martin with a heads-up.
Transactions were completed in cash, Martin said, and he would take about a third of the sale price as commission.
“I collected the money from the customers and then I took … my commission, and then handed the rest over to [Penner],” Martin said.
He wouldn’t say how many puppies were sold on his property, or how much money he made from the arrangement, but he noted litters of new puppies were sometimes delivered in a cargo van on a weekly basis.
Powers of Stop the Mills says big money motivates “puppy millers,” and suggests there are around 40 mills operating within Wellington County.
“This is tax-free income, this is cash under the table,” she said.
Powers suggests a conservative estimate of $105,600 per year can be made by a breeder, and $52,800 for a broker, with a sale price of $300 per puppy.
The Stop the Mills co-founder and president, retired from a career in finance, has been advocating for animals for about three decades, but in the past five years has focused her efforts on the mills.
“Around Mapleton, it’s a very big hotspot,” she said.
Powers stressed she isn’t against breeding done right.
“If it’s for the love of the breed, and they do genetic testing, and the dogs are treated humanely, and they’re socialized, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” she said.
Problems begin with high-volume production where animals are little more than a commodity.
“There’s no standards of care, there’s no quality of life,” Powers said, speaking specifically about breeder dogs.
“Most of them are almost feral and they have a horrendous way of life … and when they’re no longer useful to the breeder, they’re killed.”
Brokers such as Martin, who Powers has reported in the past, are becoming increasingly pervasive because millers don’t want to interact directly with the public.
Part of the problem is animal control and kennel bylaws are too relaxed, according to Powers.
“I’m sick and tired of these municipalities living in this bubble that we don’t have a puppy mill problem,” she said.
Powers conducts a “gap analysis” using the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Code of Practice for Canadian Kennels, comparing the code side-by-side with kennel and animal control bylaws to find where improvements need to be made.
Mapleton, based on past experiences, she said, is not so interested in hearing what she has to say.
“There is currently zero traceability in regard to the puppy mills and their licensees,” Powers said, adding micro-chipping would help track down littermates when a puppy becomes sick.
“Having clearer and stronger kennel bylaws will arm bylaw officers with a clear checklist of requirements,” she said.
“Bylaws go hand-in-hand with better enforcement [and] stiffer fines which makes licensees and the municipality more accountable.”
-With files from Patrick Raftis