As the holiday season approaches, now is an important time to remind your friends and family not to support pet stores that sell puppies and kittens. Not only can this spare them a lot of heartache, but it can also help change a system that has for too long profited off breeding animals without regard for their welfare. Our research has surfaced too many examples of unwitting consumers purchasing puppies or kittens from pet stores only to find their beloved new family member suffers severe, costly and sometimes fatal medical problems, often linked to the fact that they came from hideous puppy and kitten mills.

Our recent investigation of two Petland stores in Wichita, Kansas, found a sales clerk at one store trying to sell our investigator a lethargic puppy from an apparently unlicensed breeder. This was just the latest in a series of investigations where we’ve found sick puppies, often sourced from cruel puppy mills, and duplicitous sales tactics at Petland, which is the last national pet store chain to sell puppies. And families who have discovered their puppies purchased from Petland suffering from illnesses have sued Petland numerous times; just a few weeks ago, we detailed a lawsuit against a Petland store near Houston, Texas, that was filed after one family was assured they were buying a healthy puppy, only to find out he was diagnosed with a contagious parasitic disease and had to undergo treatment for months.

Now our team has uncovered more heartbreaking findings from inspection reports of Petland stores this year.

In Petland’s Overland Park Kansas store, also known as Pooches of Overland Park, Kansas Department of Agriculture officials found puppies with loose stools, poor appetites, or who appeared “lethargic and depressed.” One husky puppy who seemed lethargic and was not eating well wasn’t immediately seen by a veterinarian even after the Kansas Department of Agriculture requested it. Some puppies were trucked to a veterinarian in Texas instead of being treated by a Kansas vet—a stressful journey for a sick puppy to make alone. Having a local veterinarian on hand to treat sick animals in a pet store is simply common sense as well as state law. Even after the store and its owner were fined $750 plus a $200 reinspection fee for violations of the Kansas Pet Animal Act, the violations continued.

During at least three more visits, inspectors found issues with basic veterinary care, including puppies with signs of infections or internal parasites, and some underweight puppies with their ribs and spines showing. They found seven puppies with health concerns so urgent that they were required to be seen by a veterinarian within 24 hours; three of them were described by the state inspector as noticeably underweight with their skeletal structures visible, and one was so emaciated that he only had a body score of 1 out of 9, meaning he had no visible body fat at all.

A state inspection report of an Iowa City Petland store conducted last month found that a kitten died in the store after losing weight and appearing ill for at least a week before he was finally examined by a professional. The veterinarian prescribed medication, but by then the kitten was apparently too ill to be saved. Two days later, he was found dead in his cage.

These incidents are part of a sad, longstanding pattern of neglect, and these stories of animal suffering never get any easier to tell. But raising awareness is a key part of changing an unjust system. We will keep exposing the mistreatment of animals until they get the treatment they deserve.

You can help be a part of the solution this holiday season by buying presents for your furry family members at stores like those on our Puppy Friendly Pet Stores list, which don’t sell dogs or cats, or donating to a local shelter as a gift in a loved one’s name. If you’re planning to add a pet to your family during the holiday season, look first at a local animal shelter or a responsible rescue group, many of which are at or over full capacity right now. The holidays are a joyful time to give a home to a shelter pet; it’s one of the best gifts you can give. And by adopting instead of buying an animal from a pet shop, you are helping to create a more humane world.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.