Use caution when picking a puppy

If you're looking to bring a new dog into your family, how can you be sure you're not supporting the puppy mill industry?

The KRCG News Factfinder team uncovered some of the ways bad breeders try and get your attention and found out how you can avoid unknowingly supporting the puppy mill industry.

Adorable yorkies, pomeranians and silky terrier pups. They're all for sale in your local paper. But with Missouri's puppy mill problem, there's reason to be cautious.

Last year, the state started a program called Operation Bark Alert to stop unlicensed breeders. So far, almost 3,500 dogs have been rescued.

Barbara Schmitz with the Humane Society of the United States says bad breeders often sell their dogs to pet shops, Web sites and newspapers; though there are reputable sellers out there as well. Schmitz says you need to do your homework to know the difference.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends asking sellers how many dogs they breed. According to the Humane Society, one or two breeds is the max that someone should be selling. The group also recommends asking to see the dog, the dog's parents and where they all live. Also ask to see a dog's health records and ask for business references.

I called all the people who placed ads selling dogs this week in the Jefferson City News Tribune to see how many were in compliance with state law. About half said they were not licensed through the state. Others said they didn't need to be licensed because they were hobby breeders. With some exceptions, state law requires a breeder to be licensed if they have three or more female breeding dogs with the intent to sell. One seller told me I wouldn't be able to see the puppies parents.

I took my findings to Jon Hagler, the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The department oversees the licensing of commercial breeders.

"We're going to continue to crack down on those unlicensed breeders, Hagler said. We'll continue to identify others and of course the public plays a role in that."

Humane Society, state and local officials agree that the best way to avoid paying for a puppy mill dog is by adopting from a local shelter.

"If you want a dog, come visit your local shelters, said Karen Jennings, director of the Jefferson City Animal Shelter. There's nothing wrong with mutts."