Calling it her parliamentary "pet project," MLA Jane Thornthwaite is in the first stages of drafting her first private member's bill banning puppy mills and commercial kitty kennels in British Columbia.
It promises to be a lengthy process but the North Vancouver-Seymour MLA is confident that by June her private bill will be the province's newest law.
And while the teeth of the proposed legislation aren't all in place yet — the bill, in its first draft, is still a loose collection of typed and scribbled-on foolscap — its spirit is clear: Outlawing the inhumane breeding of companion animals in B.C.
It's an issue close to Thornthwaite, a former vegan and animal lover who studied zoology at the University of B.C. with an aim to becoming a veterinarian before pursuing nutrition instead.
"The general public when they go to a pet store doesn't know where that puppy comes from," Thornthwaite told The Outlook at her Lynn Valley Centre constituency office. Something else the public may be surprised to learn is that there are currently no standards regulating the pet breeding industry in B.C. "So the crux of the bill is to put standards of care to breeders," the MLA added.
While Thornthwaite is still consulting with several veterinary and kennel club agencies to determine what exactly those standards should be, one expects they will involve some specific criteria defining what constitutes adequate shelter, sanitation, food, water and veterinary care for breeding animals.
Even the definition of a "breeder" isn't agreed upon yet in B.C., but it's a title Thornthwaite wants put upon anyone with four or more female breeding animals.
Currently, experts are divided on whether licensing and regulating breeders is the best way to enforce humane breeding standards, or whether putting the onus on the pet stores to tell customers where their pets come from is the best approach.
Thornthwaite said she was still mulling both options and encourages the public to weigh in with their own ideas at her constituency office.
Because it's still very much early days for Thornthwaite's puppy-mill bill, it remains unclear what body would enforce the bill should it become law.
Thornthwaite said she hoped the BC SPCA or a similar animal welfare organization could take up the mantle of enforcement. But BC SPCA spokesperson Lorie Chortyk said that without a massive shot of new funding, the charitable society wouldn't be capable of ensuring compliance with the new law among breeders or pet stores.
"We would absolutely love to see those standards put into place but we're a charity and we do 7,000 investigations a year as it is," Chortyk told The Outlook Monday. "So we're not going to have the resources to be checking and making sure people are complying. So we'd like to see the safeguards put in place but also the resources so someone could actually enforce that. Otherwise it's words on paper."
A possible solution could be to make mandatory the licensing of all breeders and then use those annual or bi-annual licensing fees and any fines for non-compliance to cover or offset the cost of the enforcement program.
Chortyk said the majority of "unscrupulous breeders" that the BC SPCA is called to investigate are in the province's Interior, but added there are far too many smaller and less conspicuous operations locally with very low standards of care.
For now, whether Thornthwaite recommends licensing breeders or forcing pet stores to reveal the sources of their animals, the North Vancouver-Seymour MLA said she expects to hear from her constituents on all sides of the debate and by June have a law in place that serves all British Columbians and, most of all, protects the province's pets.