Thinking about getting a pet? Make your local animal shelter or rescue your first stop. Millions of companion animals in shelters are just waiting for a home like yours.

Whether you want a puppy or a more mature dog, a purebred or a one-of-a-kind mixed breed, a kitten or a cat, a shelter has the best selection of animals anywhere. Adopting shelter pets is also very affordable as these organisations offer their rescues to good homes free of cost.

Pets that end up in shelters are there through no fault of their own. Often times, their families moved and couldn't take them, or other life circumstances interfered and the pet lost his home. The vast majority of pets entering shelters and rescues are great family pets who just need a second chance. Animal shelters and rescue groups would be happy to help match you with the right pet for your family.

When looking to add a dog to the family, avoid pet shops and online animal dealers, as their dogs almost always come from puppy mills. Tragically, puppy mills continue to thrive because they prey on unwitting consumers who are smitten by too-cute-for-words puppies in pet store windows and on legitimate-seeming websites. The truth is that puppy mills house dogs in shockingly poor conditions. After fertility wanes, breeding animals are often killed, abandoned, or sold cheaply to another breeder who might try and get "one more litter" out of the dog. Puppies from these puppy mills frequently fall sick or suffer from genetic issues that result from inbreeding.

When you're looking to add a pet to your life, consider adopting a homeless animal from your local shelter or rescue group. Adopting a pet means saving a life, and having a fabulous companion to share your home.

The author is Vice President (Companion Animals) at The Humane Society of the United States, the largest animal protection organization in the United States.

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