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

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur made the announcement at the High Park Zoo earlier Friday morning.

She said there will be regular inspections of zoos and aquarium to ensure the health and safety of animals in captivity.

Meilleur said the 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 has come up with several ways to help the society’s investigators respond better to complaints.

They include plans to create a centralized dispatch service so OSPCA officers can respond to animal abuse calls from anywhere in the province, as well as a squad of specially trained investigators to crack down on puppy and kitten mills.

The government said the OSPCA will also be conducting twice-yearly inspections of zoos and aquariums.

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

Meilleur said 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.

“The OSPCA can build on their successes and improve the enforcement of animal protection legislation across Ontario.”

The OSPCA will be required to provide regular progress reports to the province.