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Buying a pet online

When you're looking for the perfect pet, turn to the Internet. There's no better place to find out about appropriate breeds and the best breeders.

However, the Internet is full of traps for the unsuspecting pet lover. A loophole in federal law has spawned an upsurge in puppy mills, large-scale facilities that breed dogs or cats in often-unsanitary conditions without regard for the individual animal's welfare.

"What most people don't realize is that there is no regulation of the people who do large-scale breeding," says Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for Companion Animals for the Humane Society of the United States. "Just because someone is selling dogs over the Internet doesn't mean they run a reputable outfit."

Buying a pet from a puppy mill frequently leads to heartbreak for a pet owner, who must deal with the physical and psychological fallout experienced by animals raised in deplorable conditions.

The Humane Society and other animal welfare groups in support of the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS), a bill introduced Congress in 2005. The bill would regulate puppy mills by requiring any commercial breeder who sells more than six litters of dogs or cats, or sells more than 25 puppies or kittens a year, to be licensed by the federal Department of Agriculture. The bill also would allow the government to regulate the flow of companion animals from overseas locations. Currently that trade is not regulated.

Where to start
Many Web sites are dedicated to helping consumers find the most appropriate pet. The first step is to make sure that your lifestyle is compatible with a particular type of companion animal. Different types of dogs and cats as well as other pets have different needs for companionship and exercise.

"You might think that since you are a busy, active family that an active dog might best suit your needs," Shain says. "But if your activities mainly consist of going to soccer and ballet practice while the dog sits at home by itself, that most likely isn't a good fit."

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers a guide to pet ownership and selecting the appropriate pet. The site lists questions to ask yourself before settling on a particular type of pet:

  • Do you have room for the pet?
  • What activities do you enjoy?
  • How do you spend your day?
  • Do you have a no-pets clause?
  • How much will your pet cost?
  • What if a pet doesn't fit your lifestyle?

Costs are an important issue to consider before getting a pet. Even if you get a pet from a shelter or rescue group, there are still initial and ongoing costs involved in owning a pet. Veterinary expenses include checkups, immunizations and care for a sick pet. Some breeds of dogs and cats are more prone to certain medical conditions than others, which is another reason you should fully investigate a breed before you select a particular type.

Next: Look for red flags
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