TORONTO -- Ontario's animal welfare watchdog has turned down a government request to continue enforcing cruelty laws until the province passes a new law, saying those responsibilities should rest with police.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the Ontario Society for the Prevention Cruelty to Animals, Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said she hoped the new legislation -- based on a "new animal welfare enforcement model" -- would be in force by January 2020.

"In the meantime, it is important that enforcement of animal protection laws continue without any gaps that could leave animals more vulnerable than they are today," Jones wrote in her letter, which was obtained by The Canadian Press.

On March 4, the OSPCA told the government it would no longer enforce animal cruelty laws when its current contract expires on April 1.

In its response to the government's request, the OSPCA offered a three-month extension, and pointed to police services to enforce cruelty laws.

"This charity has never provided enforcement services for more than one-third of the province as it has never been resourced to do so," wrote the society's lawyer, Brian Shiller. "Consequently, law enforcement agencies have been enforcing and can continue to enforce animal protection laws in the province and are best equipped and resourced to do so."

The charity has said the cost of investigating more than 15,000 cruelty cases per year has become too burdensome and surpasses the $5.75 million it receives annually from the government.

Its role came into question in early January when an Ontario court ruled the government erred when it gave the OSPCA policing powers without also imposing accountability and transparency standards.

The OSPCA has said that ruling was the catalyst to abdicating its role as it shifts its focus from enforcement to its shelter business.

Shiller wrote in his letter that the OSPCA would like an answer to the three-month extension by Wednesday.

"As, after that day, we will be required to take steps to ensure that inspectors and agents no longer have in their possession certain equipment related to their enforcement work and have them transition their job responsibilities to support services to assist policing agencies."

The OSPCA has pointed to a model that exists between the New York Police Department and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. There, the police conducts the investigations while the ASPCA provides veterinary care, housing and forensic services.

Jones told the OSPCA that "it is clear that a new approach to enforcement is required."

"Until my ministry can introduce and implement a new animal welfare enforcement model, the OSPCA is uniquely positioned to continue its legacy of protecting animal welfare in Ontario," Jones wrote.

"It is vital that the OSPCA and the government work together to ensure a smooth transition to the new model."