TORONTO - Ontario's Provincial Animal Welfare Act officially takes effect today, ushering in tougher penalties for animal abuse.

Before overhauling the 90-year-old act, the province had been criticized for having the most lax animal protection laws in the country.

The provincial government says it's gone from "worst to first" and Ontario is now the only jurisdiction in Canada with special protections for law-enforcement animals like police dogs and horses.

The legislation also imposes new rules on the province's dozens of roadside zoos, giving the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals the right to inspect them.

Veterinarians are now required to report any instances of abuse or neglect.

And a new section of the act makes it illegal to cause an animal distress, train an animal to fight, or have structures or equipment used in animal fights.

Penalties for individuals under the act include fines between $1,000 and $60,000 and jail time between 30 days and two years.

Pet owners convicted of a crime under the act can also be barred from owning any animals for life.