Alarmed by claims of animal abuse at puppy mills in the township, Wellesley councillors found themselves embroiled in a lengthy discussion this week. While agreeing to look into the allegations, however, officials heard some of them may be unwarranted.

Raised by animal control officer Evelyn Hahn, the topic provided an emotional return to business Tuesday night after council’s summer break. At the meeting to provide an update on a review of the township’s animal control bylaw, Hahn brought the discussion around to the claims made by an activist who has been rescuing animals in Wellesley.

The concerns raised stem from accusations against some dog breeders by Kimberly Thomas, owner of Kismutt Small Dog Rescue, who, according to Hahn, identifies herself as a Zorra Township animal control officer from Oxford County when she visits homes in Wellesley in order to rescue animals.

In the last couple of months, Thomas has been vigorously denouncing so-called puppy mills and inaction by municipalities.

Coun. Herb Neher said he was moved to take action after receiving a series of e-mails from activist groups regarding the issue of animal abuse in the township.

“These accusations bother me,” he said during the meeting. “Where do these people get this information?”

Officials expressed concerns about Thomas running a private small dog rescue operation yet introducing herself as an animal control officer to dog breeders outside of the jurisdiction of her own township.

Hahn, Mayor Ross Kelterborn and several council members say they have attempted to contact Thomas over the past few weeks after a series of graphic e-mails from activists depicting abused dogs and photographs of barns where they animals were allegedly housed before being rescued. Kelterborn said they have not been able to track down any concise information from Thomas. Nor, according to Hahn, has she attempted to go through the proper channels to report animal abuse outside of her jurisdiction.

Thomas was sent a document outlining complaint procedures in Wellesley, yet council members say she has not come forward with a formal complaint.

After discussing the issue, councillors agreed to a re-evaluation of the current bylaw by the end of the year, with the possibility of revisions, though both Hahn and council did not see any urgent need for changes. The township also plans to contact Zorra Township with inquiries about Thomas’ activities.

Wellesley Township has a total of 13 licensed kennels, which are inspected by its animal control officer on a regular basis, said Hahn.

“I’ve been in the kennels three or four times [this year] and they are fantastic,” she said. Hahn admits that the township has had problems with animal abuse in the past, with rare cases of dogs being kept in cages and other cramped quarters. But she also says there is little evidence of the rash of abuse described by Thomas and various e-mails from activist groups given that no one, including Thomas, has contacted Wellesley animal control with any specific details.

Puppy mills are below-standard, high-yield and often illegal dog-breeding operations. Among the accusations levelled by Thomas were that Wellesley animal control gives more than 20 days’ notice of an upcoming inspection of licensed kennels or breeding facilities. Hahn says that is not so.

She said owners are usually given warning the night before, yet adds that if there is significant abuse occurring on a regular basis in dog kennels, signs of abuse cannot be removed in a day and there are always telltale indications in the dogs’ behavior.

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Elena Maystruk

Elena Maystruk was a journalist at the Woolwich Observer where she covered news, business, sports and human interest beats. She has previously worked with university and independent publications in Toronto, covering everything from the city music scene to the local branch of the Occupy movement. She is a long-time community enthusiast and volunteer in Waterloo Region and part of the 2012 Media Studies graduating class at Guelph-Humber University. Maystruk is currently a staff writer for the Strathroy Age Dispatch.