First, let me give you some reasons not to buy your next pet from a pet store, a newspaper ad, the internet, or the parking lot of your grocery store. Some reputable breeders have legitimate newspaper ads and websites, and I'll discuss how to separate the wheat from the tares in a bit; right now, I want to show how choosing such avenues for pet ownership can have disastrous, if not fatal, effects.
The main problem with buying a puppy the various ways listed above is that you don't know what you're getting into, and you cannot trust the honesty of any of the selling parties involved. Pet stores often tell consumers that their puppies are family raised by "prime breeders", have a clean bill of health, and their parents are AKC registered (which isn't saying much--the AKC turns a blind eye to puppy mills because the AKC makes money on every "purebred" dog registered, healthy or not). Unfortunately, none of their claims are typically the case. There is a pending case against Petland for selling unhealthy, dying puppies to uneducated consumers:
The money you spend on a puppy in the mall and other pet stores funds the cruel puppy mill practice. Do not think that buying one of these puppies is "saving" it from a terrible life; the damage has already been done, and your purchase ensures that it will continue.
As for newspaper ads, the internet, and parking lot puppies, there are no guarantees that the puppies for sale are family-raised, healthy, and reared humanely, regardless of what the seller tries to tell you. Remember, there are no laws requiring a standard of care for the animals, and many folks have no qualms lying about the origin of their product to turn a profit (There are consumer fraud laws, I guess...But what deal with unscrupulous people if you can avoid it?). Many breeder websites show stock photography of happy, healthy puppies, which wins the consumer's trust that they are purchasing a healthy puppy. Many times, it just isn't the case.
So, now that you're terrified of making a mistake when you pick out your pup, what can you do to avoid supporting puppy mills?
1. Adopt! There are zillions of dogs (and young puppies!) waiting for homes in shelters all over the country. Most dogs and puppies in shelters go through a physical exam, spay/neuter, are microchipped, and vaccinated--all before you step in the door! Considering all the work that goes into shelter dogs to "prepare" them for adoption and their affordable adoption donation, they are a much better deal than a dog that's yet to see a vet that costs $1000.
2. Research reputable breeders. As stated before, many reputable breeders use the newspaper and the internet to advertise their new litters. There are many differences between a reputable "hobby" breeder and a puppy mill breeder.
a. A reputable breeder will allow you to come to their home in person (don't rely on photos from a website!), will show you all the puppies and their mom (usually dad isn't on site), and describe how the puppies were raised. A puppy mill breeder does not allow you to visit; many won't even let you hold puppies until after the sale is complete.
b. Reputable breeders have a love for the breed of dog they produce and are committed to breeding for temperament and soundness. They make sure that the parents of each litter have temperaments suited for home life and are free of any hereditary disease that may manifest itself in the pups. They will usually have certifications from vets that show a clean bill of hereditary health. Puppy mill breeders, however, do not consider the temperament or soundness of their puppies. Their goal is to make money, not create excellent examples of a particular breed. They breed parents that have health and temperament issues together time and again; if the puppy sells, it's not their problem (but could cause heartbreak for unsuspecting owners down the road).
c. Reputable breeders are committed to the health and longevity of the puppies they produce. Often, if a puppy doesn't work out, a breeder will accept the dog back, rather than see it enter the shelter system. Puppy mill breeders' concern for their puppies ends once your cash is in their hands.
So, the way to avoid puppy mills is clear--the main thing is to not make an impulse buy and to DO YOUR RESEARCH! Don't purchase a puppy sight unseen off the web or through a paper, and be sure to visit a breeder's home before you even consider buying a puppy from them. Of course, you can avoid supporting puppy mills altogether if you adopt. Here's a list of adoption agencies in the western shore area. There are many, many more in the entire Twin Cities area.
Animal Humane Society
Minnesota Wisconsin Collie Rescue
Minnesota Greyhound Rescue
Tomorrow--Food for Thought.