Q: My daughter did something I’ve always told her never to do. She bought a puppy at one of those puppy stores. The little guy is already sick and she refuses to take him back even though our vet says he’s got several health problems. What are her options? Can she still sue the store and keep the puppy? What should she do?
A: I get this question at least once a month. A new client will invariably wonder about a purchased puppy who suffers from an acute illness or gets diagnosed with a catastrophic congenital disease (like a heart abnormality or limb deformity).
Should they return the puppy and risk that the shop won’t treat the animal or should they keep the puppy and take the establishment to small claims court?
Regardless of disease, defect or the length of time they’ve spent in their new household, my clients are almost uniformly in love with their pups. They don’t want to return them. Instead, I find them increasingly willing to seek redress for their new pets’ wrongs by forcing puppy purveyors to fork over a financial settlement to help cover the cost of treating the disorders they’ve been diagnosed with.
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This is one of the possible legal protections so-called “pet lemon laws” were designed to offer purchasers. After several highly publicized atrocities committed by puppy mills and pet stores, many states adopted these laws to force breeders and retailers to improve their practices.
Here’s an example of what Florida’s version of the law offers consumers:
• Buyers who document infectious diseases (within 14 days) or hereditary defects (within a year) are eligible for financial settlement 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 2 litters or sell more than 20 dogs per year.
Unfortunately, these laws work only if pet owners know about them. And since retail puppy shoppers like your daughter tend to be less knowledgeable about animal welfare and pets in general, most haven’t heard about pet lemon laws.
Which is where veterinarians come in. And you, of course. Because the more you tell your friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances about these laws, the less hospitable the climate becomes for those who are too happy to breed and sell sickly animals.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.