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The conditions are deplorable. There’s little light, even less food, and virtually no care and attention. Fur is matted down and the dogs are malnourished, neglected and aggressive. Even if it’s not apparent at first glance, the dogs you’re considering for adoption right now have been mistreated their entire, short lives–but hey, they’re cheap, right?

You’ve just purchased a dog from a puppy mill, and you’ve helped to ensure that they’ll continue to operate, churning out puppies faster than you can say “animal abuse.” So if you, like me, are concerned about the welfare of animals, you’ll do your part to stop puppy mills.

The first step, of course, is to avoid purchasing dogs from these mills. To do that, you’ll need to educate yourself.

Not everyone is aware of the horrors of puppy mills–even those who have adopted a dog from one can walk away none the wiser about the conditions within. The mills are more popular around certain parts of the country, particularly in rural Pennsylvania. Bred purely to be sold in just their third or fourth month of life, the puppies are mistreated, abused and ignored. The more care the breeders need to put into raising the dogs, the less money they’ll make.

Often, the parents of the dogs they’re attempting to sell are maintained exclusively to breed. They’re made to breed with another dog, produce offspring and immediately start again. Once they’ve been bred to the point of exhaustion, they’re given up–whether that’s through dropping them off at a shelter, selling them to an unwitting pet owner, or killed.

There exist numerous red flags that the breeder you’re seeking to buy a dog from is running a puppy mill of which you should be aware. If the breeder offers a number of different breeds that could serve as a sign, as could a refusal to allow you to visit their kennel. If the dog doesn’t have proper vaccinations or paperwork, there’s a good chance you’re supporting a puppy mill.

Rescuing dogs from puppy mills can, unfortunately, put you and your family in a bit of danger. While any rescue is viewed as a good rescue, dogs bred and raised in horrible conditions can often come with a wealth of disorders and disabilities. Raising a dog who with a disability as a result of years of inbreeding, or an anxious, skittish or terrified puppy who has been separated from its mother can be a terror.

If you do find yourself at a puppy mill–particularly one that has signs of neglect and abuse, the Humane Society recommends you reach out directly to an animal control agency or sheriff’s office in your area. The Humane Society also features a tip line itself, which can be reached by email at StopPuppyMills@humanesociety.org, or by phone at 1-877-MILL-TIP.