Who doesn’t love a cuddly puppy? For many Oklahomans, the family simply wouldn’t be whole without a four-legged friend.

But, bringing a new canine companion into the home is not a decision that should be made lightly.

Once you determine the time is right to add a dog to the family, you should take great care in deciding where to get your pup. The environment where a puppy is bred, born and raised can have a significant impact on its health, genetics and socialization. This, along with animal cruelty concerns, is why it’s important to avoid purchasing puppies from large-scale breeding operations that place profit above animal welfare – often referred to as puppy mills.

Many puppy mill dogs spend their entire lives in wire cages with limited or no medical care or human interaction. These conditions often produce puppies that are unhealthy and have problems socializing with humans and other dogs.

To help ensure your new pal is not the product of a puppy mill, the Humane Society of the United States offers the following tips.

Consider adopting your new pet

Shelters and rescue groups are a great first stop. From purebreds to mixed breeds, you’ll find scores of great animals who are looking for a good home. If a specific breed is a must have, there are rescue groups dedicated to almost every breed of dog. Central Oklahoma has some amazing shelter and rescue organizations that can help you find your new best friend. For details on the area’s pet adoption organizations, visit www.shelterpetproject.org.

Buy from a responsible breeder

If you decide to purchase a dog from a breeder, the key is to actually visit the breeder to inspect the conditions where the dog and its parents live. Make sure the area is clean and well maintained. Watch how the animals interact with each other and people. Ask for references from previous buyers. Be suspicious of any breeder who does not want you to visit his/her facility.

Registration papers are no guarantee

Just because a dog has registration papers does not mean it’s healthy or free of genetic defects. Keep in mind that registration papers will only give you the information on a dog’s parents, not how its parents were housed and treated.

To protect Oklahoma consumers and animals, The HSUS works closely with Oklahoma law enforcement agencies to stop abusive and inhumane puppy mills in our state. This spring we partnered with the National Sheriff’s Association, FBI, Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, Oklahoma Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and the Humane Society of Tulsa to train more than 700 officers from across Oklahoma in the identification and investigation of animal cruelty cases.

As part of the effort, each of our attendees received an evidence kit with necessary supplies and resources for collecting evidence during the investigation of animal-related crimes. The evidence kit includes a digital camera and memory cards, evidence collection bags, gloves, index cards and more. The kit, valued at $500, was provided at no charge to the officers.

This partnership has already returned dividends as law enforcement agencies from numerous jurisdictions have reported utilizing their HSUS training during the investigation of cruelty and neglect cases.

Additionally, in our ongoing effort to end the misery of large-scale breeding facilities, HSUS has established a national tip line (1-877-MILL-TIP) where concerned Oklahomans can report suspected cruelty and other unlawful activities associated with puppy mills. We pay tipsters up to $5,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of a puppy miller for animal cruelty.

Working together, we can protect innocent animals from unscrupulous and harmful breeders who care more about profits than pets.

Cynthia Armstrong is the Oklahoma senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States.