10/25/2013 12:00 EDT | Updated 12/25/2013 05:12 EST

New measures to better protect Ontario's animals

The Ontario government will spend $5.5 million a year to increase enforcement of animal welfare laws, crack down on puppy and kitten mills and improve care for marine mammals in the province.

In making the announcement on Friday, Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur said the government's plans include regular inspections of zoos and aquariums to ensure animals in captivity are healthy and well cared for.

Meilleur also said annual funding will go to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help it strengthen its animal protection work.

She said the government will create a centralized dispatch service so its officers can respond to animal abuse calls from anywhere in the province.  

"The OSPCA will provide regular progress reports to the government to ensure our enforcement goals are being met," she said.

A squad of specially trained investigators will also be formed to crack down on puppy and kitten mills.

The OSPCA will also conduct twice-yearly inspections of zoos and aquariums.

Meilleur says the new measures will strengthen enforcement of animal welfare laws in areas that have been under-served, such as rural and northern communities, and address concerns about proper inspections of facilities where animals are held in captivity.

"Our government cares deeply for the well-being of animals wherever they live in this province," she said Friday.

There are more than 60 zoos and aquariums in Ontario, more than any other province, the government says.