This article appears in Sept.-Oct. Family magazine.

Where did your family pet come from? Unless you’ve done your research, there’s a good chance the family dog was purchased from a puppy mill.

“Almost every puppy sold in pet stores comes from a puppy mill,” said animal welfare advocate Deborah Bull and veterinarian Krista Magnifico, owner of Jarrettsville Veterinary Center in Jarrettsville, Maryland, when contacted by email.

September is Puppy Mills Awareness Month, and pet advocates urge families to understand the connection between puppy mills and puppies sold in stores, online, in newspapers and through other channels.

What is a puppy mill?

While awareness of puppy mills and animal welfare in general has grown in recent years, progress has been slow, they said in a joint response.

California was the first state in the country to ban the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. Maryland passed a similar law, which goes into effect in 2020. More than 30 municipalities throughout the country prohibit the sale of puppies and kittens from mills.

To protect man’s best friend people need to put puppy mills out of business by not buying dogs from pet stores, the internet, flea markets and newspaper ads.

“The bottom line to remember is the law of supply and demand. If there is no demand for these puppies, the puppy mills will be forced out of business and the suffering will finally end,” they said.

A puppy mill is the name given to any breeder or kennel who breeds dogs for the sake of profit without consideration of the dog’s health, living conditions or genetic issues, Magnifico and Bull said.

Conditions in puppy mills can run from doubtful to deplorable, sometimes covering only the most basic life-sustaining requirements of food, water and shelter, Magnifico and Bull said. Dogs may live their entire lives in wire cages without human contact, hidden in outbuildings with no heat in winter or air conditioning in the summer, they said.

It can be difficult to identify a reputable breeder from a puppy mill breeder because the sale is often manipulated, Magnifico and Bull said. Reputable pets often cost significantly more to buy, with prices in the thousands of dollars versus hundreds.

Do your homework

Instead of buying puppies from pet stores or the internet, consider adoption or rescue of a new pet.

“Shelter and rescue pets have long been misunderstood. They usually end up there because of the human condition, not because they are damaged animals. Divorce, moving, allergies, no time, etc., are all common reasons pets are surrendered to shelters and rescues. However, rescue pets are almost always vaccinated, health-screened and most are temperament-tested, which is extremely helpful in knowing about the pet before taking them home,” they said.

Many reputable rescues operate throughout the country. Helpful advocate sites such as the shelterpetproject.org, petfinder.com and adoptapet.com allow people to browse and pick their pet by breed, age, gender and size, and they list rescues and shelters in their area.

Ask local rescues and shelters for advice. Ask for breeder and vet references. Ask what would happen to your puppy if you needed to rehome them. Read contracts fully.

It’s a misconception to believe that by buying a puppy mill animal that you are saving them, Magnifico and Bull said.

“You’re not. You are only perpetuating the misery their parents live in and promulgating the misery of the next generation to come,” they said.