A new law aimed at shutting down puppy mills in Texas has state regulators inspecting animal breeders and warning consumers.
Puppy mills have long been blamed for causing animals to suffer and die because of over-breeding and poor sanitary conditions.
In Giddings, Texas, an operation called Little bit of Heaven was raided by authorities earlier this year.
The Humane Society of the U.S. helped rescue 52 dogs, finding them in small wire cages stacked on top of each other in deplorable conditions.
"The only way that we knew about it was because consumers were complaining that they were purchasing sick and dying puppies," said Katie Jarl, the Texas state director of HSUS.
But she said a new Texas law that regulates dog and cat breeders should cut down on puppy mills.
“Last year, a puppy mill could operate in the state of Texas, have extremely cruel and inhumane conditions, and no one would be the wiser for it,” Jarl said.
Susan Stanford is with the agency charged with enforcing the new law, the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
"Any breeder that has 11 or more intact females is in the business of breeding, and offers or sells 20 or more puppies or kittens in a calendar year, needs to be licensed," Stanford said.
The owners of Boerner's Bloodhounds near Sisterdale, David and Nancy Boerner, worried when they heard about the law.
"My first thing was, 'Oh, here we go,'" said David Boerner.
But then they were one of the first to apply for a permit. They breed and ship bloodhounds all over the country and the world and now welcome state scrutiny.
"It honestly and truly makes us look better. It really does to have the state of Texas behind you," said David Boerner.
Nancy Boerner said it is not just something for the breeder.
"It's good for the consumer too,” Nancy Boerner said. “They know they're getting dogs from a reputable breeder."
But the law only regulates large breeders.
And Albert Alvarado is one of only four breeder inspectors for the TDLR. During an inspection, he checks veterinary paperwork and examines breeder facilities.
"Our main priority is the overall welfare of the animal, making sure that it has the appropriate housing," Alvarado said. “Making sure that all the enclosures are free from things that will harm the dog.”
The state hopes the new breeder law will run some bad breeders out of business or at least cause them to shape up.
“Basically, it is the first time the state has enforced a standard of care for breeders, whether it's dogs or cats,” Stanford said.
She said consumers can keep from buying an animal from a puppy mill simply by asking the breeder if they have a state breeder's permit.
"It's not only good for the consumer, but it's good for the animals," Stanford said.
There is no puppy lemon law in Texas, so the Humane Society of the U.S. offers some recommendations when shopping for a puppy.
They advise consumers to first try to rescue an animal from a shelter.
They also urge consumers to check breeder licenses, to check out the facility themselves and report any bad conditions to the state and any cruelty to local law enforcement.