No one thinks they are contributing to animal cruelty when they purchase that cuter-than-cute puppy from a pet store or when they look through Craigslist and answer a "Puppies For Sale" ad. Yet, they often are.
Puppy mills and unlicensed backyard breeders make a good profit off the pets they sell but it's often at the expense of the animals themselves. What sellers also don't tell potential pet parents is that they may be getting an animal that has unchecked hereditary defects, behavior issues or potential health problems.
Many pets bought because of their cute factor at pet stores or from backyard breeding operations end up at shelters or worse. They are abandoned by owners as the cute factor wears off and they are left with a dog they either can't control or with issues they can't afford.
Where pets are bred for profit, it's best to remember the saying "buyer beware!"
This condemnation doesn't extend to reputable breeders whose primary concern is for the stability and future of the breed they raise. Reputable breeders are licensed, inspected by agricultural authorities and only produce a few dogs at a time.
They pay careful attention to the quality and health of the animals in their care. They are open about their business history, breeding practices and facilities.
Puppy mills are high volume commercial breeders who will breed a female every time she goes into heat and when her fertility or health wanes, she will often be sold at auction or in some cases, killed.
Puppy mills often are very secretive about their sites and conditions, which have been found by authorities in various raids over the years to be deplorable and not what animal lovers would consider even remotely acceptable for man's best friend.
In the last two decades it has shocked the public to discover through investigative journalism that the Amish, known as very peaceful, private and hardworking communities, are some of the worst purveyors of puppy mills in the United States.
Rampant backyard breeders are not much better. They are usually unlicensed, un-inspected, and produce many litters per year, selling them through ads online and in newspapers.
Animal rescuers and shelter personnal who work and volunteer at LifeLine Animal Projectin Avondale Estates have seen their share of the problems associated with puppy mill dogs.
"We have a standard poodle that was used as a breeding male in a puppy mill," reports Debbie Setzer, LifeLine's community outreach director, "He came to us with his ears so infected that he required major surgery, but even now he really can't hear very well. He lived in a cage in his entire life before coming here. He was never touched or petted. He was fed and he was bred. He was hosed off instead of being bathed. He was never groomed. None of this is unusual at puppy mills."
In contrast, many dogs, both adults and puppies up for adoption in shelters or rescues have had homes of some kind before. Shelter staff have occasion to get to know the animals they care for and at some rescues, like LifeLine, the pets will receive basic training and new owners will also get a medical history.
Spay, neuter and vaccinations are included in adoption fee, keeping pet parents from having that initial expense when they adopt a new dog or cat.
"We know our dogs very well," says Setzer, "and we can help you find the pet that is right for your household."
National organizations like the ASPCA have long warned pet owners of the dangers of buying from puppy mills or unlicensed breeders and how to avoid doing so.
The Humane Society of the United States also advises those who are looking for a new pet to avoid buying those bred in puppy mills or by unscrupulous breeding operations.
With all the worthwhile dogs and cats, both purebred and mixed breeds, in shelters waiting for homes, it makes sense to consider the adoption option when you are looking for a new four-legged family member.
The hidden cost of purchasing a pet from an unknown situation can be very high indeed.