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Woman with sleeping Persian cat over white Collection: iStockphoto Item number: 92674602 Title: Woman and Cat

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To rework a novelty tune from the 1950s, how much that little doggie in the window costs isn't as germane a question these days as its provenance.

In Quebec, the odds should soon dwindle to zero the cute little ragamuffin in your neighbourhood pet store who was born amid the dismal and often fetid conditions of a puppy mill.

The province, long a laggard in animal rights, is revamping its antiquated legal regime, which includes clamping down on scores of disreputable dog and cat breeders who have flourished, unmolested, for decades.

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It would be nice to be able to congratulate the provincial government for leaping into action, but as Agriculture Minister Pierre Paradis admitted this week, "Quebec is about 20 years behind the civilized world."

Well, better late than never.

Mr. Paradis' legislation includes the formal designation of animals as sentient beings. Up to now, they have been considered a good, on a level with towel racks and brake parts. It also bans raising animals for combat, dramatically ratchets up the penalties for those found guilty of cruelty, and creates a new system of permits for anyone who owns or cares for a large number of cats or dogs.

The bill beefs up inspectors' authority and creates a legal responsibility to treat pets and livestock humanely. Also forbidden: submitting an animal "to a treatment that will cause death . . . acute pain, or expose to conditions that cause excessive anxiety or suffering."

The draft law even includes a requirement for pet owners to "provide stimulation, socialization or environmental enrichment as befits its biological imperatives." So keep Rover's leash handy.

As usual, there are warnings of government overreach. For example, critics worry the province will effectively ban halal and kosher slaughtering practices, and there is ambiguity on the issue. That and other questions will be sorted out in due course – the bill likely won't become law for several more months.

At least Quebec can see the day when it will relinquish membership in the U.S.-based Animal Legal Defense Fund's annual ranking of "Best Places to be an Animal Abuser." Their focus can now turn to the next entry on the list. Over to you, Nunavut.

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