Sick Golden Retriever puppy

It happens at least once a month: A new client will come in wondering what to do about a purchased puppy who won’t eat, never stops coughing or suffers from one of many more common signs of illness. But it’s not just the obviously ill ones. Sometimes purchased puppies (kittens, too) are quickly diagnosed with potentially serious congenital conditions like heart abnormalities or limb deformities.

Regardless of the disease, defect or length of time the pets have spent in their new households, my clients are almost uniformly enamored with them and don’t want to give them up. Increasingly, I find them willing to seek redress for their new pets’ medical problems by asking puppy and kitten purveyors for a financial settlement to help cover the cost of treating the disorders.

A Legal Recourse for Buyers

This is one of the possible legal protections pet lemon laws were designed to offer purchasers. Many states adopted these laws to force irresponsible breeders and retailers to improve their practices.

Here’s an example of what my state’s version of the law offers Florida consumers: Buyers who document infectious diseases (within 14 days) or congenital or hereditary defects (within a year) are eligible for financial redress from the seller. Buyers can demand a refund or replacement plus reimbursement of veterinary expenses (only up to the price of the dog). This law applies to sellers who breed more than two litters or sell more than 20 dogs per year, whichever is greater.

I know what you’re going to say. It’s not exactly perfect. This kind of law might keep a small breeder who sells a litter with hip dysplasia from breeding any more pups, but it certainly won’t deter an unethical pet shop from doing business here in Miami, where I live.

To keep from paying the piper, these pet shops just shut down every few months and start up a new place under a slightly different name. In fact, irresponsible pet retailers have gotten extra smart about skirting the laws around the annual holiday pet sell-a-thon. Pop-up pet shops show up in mid-November and are shuttered by New Year’s.

Sad, right? But as it turns out, hitting the irresponsible breeder or retailer in the pocketbook is an effective way to improve how they do business.

Getting the Word Out

Unfortunately, these laws work only if pet owners know about them. And since retail puppy shoppers tend to be less knowledgeable about animal welfare and pets in general, most haven’t heard about pet lemon laws.

Which is where veterinarians like me come in. And you, of course. Because the more you tell your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances about these laws, the less hospitable the climate becomes for those who breed and sell sickly animals.

Want to know more? Here are some links outlining how pet lemon laws work in some states:

Don’t see your state on the list? Check with the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division to find out whether your state has a pet lemon law and petition your representatives if it doesn’t. Pet lemon laws may be imperfect, but they do help improve conditions in puppy mills and unethical pet shops by making sellers somewhat more accountable for their breeding practices and quality of care.

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