Well-meaning dog lovers often pay hundreds of dollars for a puppy without knowing much about its origin. There is a lot of money to be made at the expense of different animal species, but this guide will focus on dogs. As with any business, the rule of supply and demand applies to puppies sold in pet stores and Internet website "breeders".
The definition of "puppy mills", as provided by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is one worth citing:
A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs. Unlike responsible breeders, who place the utmost importance on producing the healthiest puppies possible, breeding at puppy mills is performed without consideration of genetic quality. This results in generations of dogs with unchecked hereditary defects.
Puppy mill puppies are typically sold to pet shops—usually through a broker, or middleman—and marketed as young as eight weeks of age. The lineage records of puppy mill dogs are often falsified.
Source: ASPCA (2010). "Puppy Mills". Retrieved: 2010-08-23
© 2010. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). All Rights Reserved.
Check out this informational booklet on puppy mills by the Humane Society.
The best way to illustrate the problem is to share documentaries like the one below, produced by Best Friends Animal Society.
Campaign created by Best Friends Animal Society, a non-profit organization that operates the nation's largest sanctuary for homeless animals.
BFAS has been a key advocate for legislation reform, and produces a wealth of resources for public education to put an end to puppy mills, breed-specific legislation, euthanasia of homeless animals, and more.
Particularly, the links to Q&A, history, and further reading under the Tools and Information section effectively summarize what everyone should know about puppy mills.
These pages offer a comprehensive amount of information about puppy mills, help for consumers to recognize scams, guidance for helping dogs already purchased from pet stores or Internet sellers, protection laws for animals and consumers, and more.
Irresponsible breeding is the root of the problem. The most conscientious decision you can make when you purchase a puppy is to spay or neuter. By doing so, you can ensure that this loving dog you've brought into your life will not add to the millions of puppies with uncertain futures!
Don't let costs be an excuse not to spay or neuter your dog. All over the US there are organizations dedicated to facilitating low-cost spay/neuter to dog owners. In Florida, the most notable is Florida Spay - but there are many more clinics you can look into via your county animal control/services centers.
An exception to the promotion of spay/neuter is the case of breeding stock sires and dams owned by reputable breeders, where a limited number of dogs are not spayed or neutered to meet AKC requirements for dog conformation shows. You can learn more about this in the AKC Beginner's Guide to Dog Shows.