SAN ANTONIO A new, so-called "puppy mill" law in Texas will require the state's commercial pet breeders to maintain humane conditions. Animal advocates praise the new rules, but say widespread direct sales of pets online also make federal standards necessary.

Pets ordered online may arrive with diseases that can lead to huge veterinary bills for unwitting buyers, warns Melanie Kahn, who directs the the Humane Society of the United States Puppy Mills Campaign. She says lots of dogs are bred and kept in filthy, cramped cages where care takes a back seat to profit.

"When we've gone on raids and rescues, we see dogs that are filthy. They have severe illnesses and diseases. Often they're genetic diseases. We've seen facilities where the dogs haven't been fed."

The Humane Society has started an online petition asking the Obama administration to require all commercial breeders to be covered by USDA Animal Welfare Act regulations.

Critics say new rules are costly and unnecessary, because animal cruelty laws already protect dogs and cats.

Mary Beth Duerler, with the Responsible Pet Owners Alliance, opposes the new Texas law, as well as any new federal standards. She says it is nearly impossible for commercial breeders to follow USDA regulations, and requiring that would practically end pet sales online.

"To ban sales on the Internet is just an animal-rights agenda. They want to end all use, breeding and ownership of animals - whether you eat them, wear them or pet them."

Duerler says anyone purchasing a pet online should check out the breeder in person or through website photographs to make sure the animals are well cared for.

Kahn advises adopting a pet from a local shelter or rescue group. Before using commercial breeders, she suggests doing some research.

"We encourage people to go to a responsible breeder, someone who does not breed their dogs purely for profit, someone who genuinely cares about the welfare of the dog."

Kahn recomments as a trustworthy online resource. For learning more about identifying responsible breeders she recommends visiting the puppy mills section of the Humane Society website,

The online petition is available at