It is a sad truth that the cute puppies frolicking in the windows of pet shops so often come from the most dismal facilities: Puppy mills, where their mothers and fathers are treated as little more than moneymaking machines, getting bred over and over to produce litter after litter. But there is hope. When animals are suffering from an unjust system that profits from their mistreatment, we all have the power to help raise awareness—and by changing minds we can change the system.

As we approach the busiest puppy-buying season of the year—the winter holidays—the Humane Society of the United States has launched a new ad campaign to warn the public about the hazards of purchasing puppies from pet stores. Our campaign focuses on Petland, Inc., the last national pet store chain in America that still sells puppies. Headquartered in Chillicothe, Ohio, but with dozens of outlets across the country, Petland has been repeatedly linked to dismal puppy mills by our investigations.

These puppy mills are where mother and father dogs live in cramped wire cages for their entire lives, often left cold and hungry, their sole purpose pumping out puppies for the pet trade. Petland even bought from a particularly notorious puppy mill operator in Iowa who was recently found with 120 animal welfare violations. On the premises of his puppy mill, authorities discovered the bodies of deceased dogs and skeletal, emaciated dogs as well.

Puppies in Petland stores are often sick, and sometimes they even die shortly before or after purchase or spread illness to people. Our investigations proved that even when puppies were sick in the store, Petland often neglected to take them to a veterinarian in a timely manner, sometimes resulting in their deaths.

For all these reasons, our campaign is encouraging people to connect the dots: “When you think Petland, think puppy mills.” And we’re hoping that this makes potential shoppers won over by pet shop sales talk rethink where the puppies in the windows are coming from. Our ad campaign is running all through the holiday prep season, from the last week of October through mid-December, on broadcast TV and cable, as well as across printed media, news and our social media platforms.

Taking a stand against puppy mills this holiday season doesn’t mean that your holidays must be puppy-less. Our word of caution against buying puppies from pet shops doesn’t mean that the season of giving isn’t a great time to give a pet a forever home. For one thing, while humane organizations used to warn consumers not to give pets as gifts, the philosophy on that issue has shifted: Now that studies have shown that as long as the givers are selecting an appropriate pet and recipients are well prepared, pets given as gifts are not any more likely to be abandoned than pets acquired in other ways. Helping a loved one find that special pet they’ve been wanting to add to their family can be a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays.

The best way to bring a new pet home without supporting cruel pet mills is to visit a local shelter or a breed rescue, or buy only from a small, quality breeder after meeting them in person. Some animal shelters even creatively leverage the giving spirit of the holidays to encourage families to give a new home to a cat, dog or other pet in need. There’s no greater gift for these animals than the love and comfort of a forever family, and that’s certainly something to celebrate this holiday season.

You can make a difference: Never buy a puppy or kitten from a pet store or website since these are common outlets for cruel pet mills. Everyone can help be a voice for voiceless puppy mill dogs: Learn more from these resources.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.

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