Back in May, we alerted readers to the rise in popularity of pet leasing arrangements, which are predatory, unethical, high-interest financing plans offered by some pet sellers like pet stores and websites selling puppies. Pets who are acquired this way are not owned by their new families—they’re the property of the leasing company during the entire length of the lease, which might last several years.
It’s a bizarre concept, paying for a puppy the same way you would pay for a car, and thankfully, lawmakers have taken notice and seem to agree. This year was notable for being the first in which state governments tackled the issue of deceptive pet-leasing schemes:
Nevada, home to a leasing provider, became the first state to outlaw the practice when its new ban took effect on July 1. A California bill to ban pet leasing was signed into law on October 13 and will be effective January 1, 2018.An effort to enact a ban was introduced in Rhode Island. It successfully passed in the House but didn’t have time to pass in the Senate before the state’s session ended for the year.
“The California Legislature was overwhelmingly supportive of putting an end to this predatory financing scheme,” says Susan Riggs, ASPCA Senior Director of State Legislation. “As the bill moved through the legislative process, the most common reaction was one of shock that this type of practice even occurs.”
The ASPCA is hopeful that additional states will act to ban unscrupulous pet leasing in 2018. Unfortunately, any such ban will come too late for Angie K., who was caught off guard when she discovered that she had unwittingly leased her dog, Harley, from a pet store.
Angie and her daughters visited a pet store in Brick, New Jersey, in April and fell in love with a three-month-old retriever puppy. Upon learning that the pup cost $3,000, “I got up to leave and said we can’t afford that,” Angie recalls. “But [the salesperson] followed me out to my car. My daughters were very upset and I was in tears. They really wanted her, so against my better judgment, we decided to get her.”
Angie says she was then pressured to sign a stack of papers. “It was, ‘Sign here, initial here.’ When I asked what I was signing and said I couldn’t read the small print, I was told ‘it’s just your basic information.’ It was all so rushed. They really blew off my concerns.”
Pet stores get a big payday with each puppy sold, but it’s a race against time because this type of “product” needs to be sold quickly, before getting too big or too old. The puppy industry is built on deception and manipulates dog-loving people like Angie into making emotion-based decisions about buying a puppy. Without realizing it, Angie had signed a lease agreement.
Poring through the paperwork at home, Angie saw that a third-party leasing company (WAGS Lending) was “leasing” the dog to her—she wasn’t Harley’s owner at all. She was required to make 23 monthly payments with outrageously high interest that nearly doubled Harley’s initial price. The company could repossess Harley if Angie failed to make a payment. If Angie wanted to own Harley at the end of the two-year agreement, additional costs would apply.
After realizing what she had signed, Angie returned to the pet store the next day, but they refused to let her out of the agreement. “We’re not talking about a car, we’re talking about a live animal,” Angie says. “And then paying interest on top of that—I was shocked and felt bullied and deceived. I was also concerned about my credit being ruined.”
Although Angie ultimately bought out the lease on Harley, her ordeal wasn’t over. Pet stores that sell puppies—most of whom come from puppy mills—sometimes offer dishonest and limited information about the source and health of their puppies. Sure enough, less than one week after coming to her new home Harley became ill with kennel cough. Two days later, she was lethargic and wouldn’t drink or eat. The family’s veterinarian diagnosed the puppy with parvo, a life-threatening illness, and gave Angie a statement declaring that Harley had been unfit for sale. Darla, the family’s other dog, also came down with kennel cough, which took three weeks to treat. “Poor Darla didn’t do anything, and now she was suffering, too,” says Laura G., Angie’s sister-in-law.
While she loves Harley, Angie vows never to go to a pet store again. “I don’t think it’s right,” she states. “It’s not the way to give an animal a home. I hope these places are closed down.”
If you’d like to help pass animal-protection laws like bans on pet leasing, please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade.