1. Consider adoption.
If you're looking to make a dog part of your family, check your local shelters first. Not only will you be saving a life, but you will ensure that your money is not going to support a puppy mill. There are many dogs waiting for homes in shelters all across the country—and an estimated one in four is a purebred! Your second option is breed rescue. If your heart is set on a specific breed you haven't been able to find in a shelter, you can do an Internet search for a breed-specific rescue organization in your area.
2. Do your homework before buying from a pet store.
The puppy that charmed you through the pet shop window may have come from a large-scale, substandard commercial breeding facility, commonly known as a puppy mill. In these facilities, parent dogs are caged and bred as often as possible and give birth to puppies who could have costly medical problems you might not become aware of until after you bring your new pet home.
3. Internet buyers, beware.
Buying a puppy from the Internet could be risky. If you buy a puppy based on a picture and a phone call, you have no way of seeing the puppy's breeding premises or meeting his parents. And those who sell animals on the Internet are not held to the Animal Welfare Act regulations—and so are not inspected by the USDA. If you fall in love with a puppy over the internet, make a visit to the breeder in person and follow the guidelines for how to recognize a responsible breeder.
4. Know how to recognize a responsible breeder.
If you've exhausted your options for adopting and are choosing to buy from a breeder, remember that responsible breeders have their dogs' interests in mind. They are not simply interested in making a sale, but in placing their pups in good homes. A responsible breeder should screen you as thoroughly as you screen them. Learn how to find a good breeder.
5. See where your puppy was born and bred.
One sign that you are speaking to an unscrupulous breeder is that they will not let you see the facility in which your puppy was born. Always ask to see the breeding premises and to meet both parents—or at least the mother—of the puppy you want to take home. Ask to see the area where the mother dog actually lives and breeds. You should also ask for an adoption contract that explains, in terms you understand, the breeder's responsibilities, health guarantee and return policy.
6. Get an animal locally.
Local shelters, rescue groups and breeders should be your first resource when looking for a new pet. There's bound to be a loving animal in your area that needs a home.
7. Share your puppy mill story with the ASPCA.
If you have—or think you have—purchased a puppy mill puppy, tell your story. Every bit of evidence gives advocates more power to get legislation passed that will ban puppy mills.
8. Speak out to your legislator.
Inform your state and federal legislators that you are disturbed by the inhumane treatment of dogs in puppy mills and would like to see legislation passed that ensures that all animals bred to be pets are raised in healthy conditions. You can keep up-to-date about current legislation to ban puppy mills by joining the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade. Visit www.aspca.org for more information.