That adorable little puppy for sale online might not be all it's hyped up to be.
According to a report by the Humane Society of the United States, more than 9,000 puppies were shipped from Missouri to California in 2009.
Unfortunately, behind that cuteness lies cruelty.
Those 9,000 puppies more than likely came from puppy mills. Missouri is the puppy mill capital of America, according to the Humane Society. Many of those puppies went to pet stores, but some were bought online by naive buyers.
Never miss a local story.
Puppy mills are commercial dog breeding facilities that are operated with an emphasis on profits, not animal welfare. The dogs are often kept in substandard conditions. Some of the most popular dogs bought online or from puppy mills are the small breeds.
That makes Ellen Smith mad.
Smith, a breeder of Pomeranians for 15 years, wants dog buyers to do their homework before buying. "There are a lot of good breeders out there; there's no reason to buy from a puppy mill," Smith said.
Puppy buyers looking for the perfect dog should steer clear of pet stores, and they should also be leery of online sales.
Smith said puppy buyers should go to a breeder's home, if possible. "Go see the parents of the puppy, see how the dogs are kept," Smith said.
The puppy should also come with a fitness guarantee, Smith said. "The puppy should have a health check done before you even consider buying it."
A puppy buyer should ask for the name of the breeder's veterinarian, and should check with the vet to see how the dogs are treated by the breeder.
Another red flag is a breeder who has puppies available all the time. "If they have too many puppies for sale I'd walk the other way," Smith said. "I have had only two puppies this year. If they have puppies every day of the week, they are not breeding for the right things."
Most good breeders will ask a potential buyer as many questions as the buyer asks the breeder, Smith said. "A good breeder wants to know where their puppies are going," she said.
People who want a purebred and also want to rescue a dog should check out their local animal shelter.
Kristi Caseri, animal control supervisor at the Merced County Animal Shelter, said there are almost always purebred dogs at the shelter. "Right now we have a German shepherd, a pug, a couple of border collies, a Shar Pei and a beagle," Caseri said.
Although the shelter can't guarantee the history of a dog, people are encouraged to come to the shelter. "The whole family can come in and meet the dogs," Caseri said. "They can bring their kids and their other pets to see if everybody gets along."
Potential puppy buyers should take their time and make sure they get the dog they want, Smith said.
"Don't get in a hurry, go to a dog show and talk to breeders," Smith said. "Don't get the first puppy you look at."
And if you just can't make up your mind, put a dog on it.
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.