Picture the perfect family. The white picket fence, two kids playing in the yard, and a dog to accompany them. Did you ever stop to think where that family got their dog? Did you ever stop to think where your dog came from? Did they come from a pet store? Or maybe you found the dog online. Chances are if they came from one of these two places, they were from a puppy mill.

So what is a puppy mill? A puppy mill is essentially a mass, commercial breeding ground in which the animals live under atrocious conditions for a huge profit. Of course no one wants to picture puppies crammed into one crate for 24 hours every day, or killing the mother when she can no longer reproduce to their standards. Even if you don't want to imagine it, it happens more often that you'd think.

You may be asking yourself, what's wrong with mass breeding dogs? Well, over 2 million puppies are bred in puppy mills every year, and there are about 10,000 puppy mills nationwide. It get's worse. The puppies get little to no veterinary care, which leads to widespread illnesses among them. Puppy mills practice poor care and treatment of these animals by cramming them into small crates with a water spout for nutrition, as they sit in their own feces. As a result, many puppies get sick with illnesses they bring into homes such as kennel cough, heart worm and upper respiratory infections. The more severe diseases that these dogs possess are epilepsy, heart disease, and musculoskeletal disorders.

If your dog is from out of state (particularly the South), from a pet store, or from an online breeder, chances are they came from a puppy mill. Puppy mills are a thriving business that make money hand over fist for "perfect", purebred dogs. The scariest part is that you might have been enabling them and didn't even know it.

The worst part of it all is that a good majority of these practices are legal. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was passed in 1966 and states that breeders who have more than three breeding female dogs and sell puppies to pet stores or puppy brokers have to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (ASPCA.org) There are still 22 states that don't regulate the commercial dog breeders. The issue with this is that the AWA permits dogs living in a crate only 6-inches larger than them in each direction, with wire floors, stacked on top of one another for their entire existence. Many breeders or pet stores will state that they're USDA approved, which you now know doesn't mean much. See the photos for yourself how appalling the conditions are of USDA licensed breeders, here.

So what can you do? Take the pledge to boycott puppy mills and commit to never buying anything from a pet store that sells these dogs. Even buying a bed or a toy at a pet store promotes the puppy mill business and their questionable ethics. You can even find out which pet stores in your area get their puppies from puppy mills on this map. The most effective way to end puppy mills is to put them out of business, and the only way to do that is to adopt. There are thousands of dogs that get rescued from puppy mills and other dangerous environments on a daily basis. Shelter dogs need your love because they've never had any. Many shelters offer vaccinations, spaying and neutering, and microchipping in the adoption fee to assure that they are healthy and safe.

There are 6 to 8 million dogs in shelters waiting for a forever home. The next time you consider getting your own furry friend, don't forget about shelters. Even if your heart is set on a purebred, 25 percent of shelters have purebred dogs and there are shelters that specialize in certain breeds, as well. Organizations such as the ASPCA have shelters nationwide that serve to protect and care for abused animals. Their list of adoptable dogs grows by the day. If you believe animals should be treated with proper care, take a stand. Vow to adopt, don't shop.