Purchasing a Puppy? Buyer Beware

Puppy Lemon Laws outline the options for the buyer of an ill puppy

June 18, 2021 (published)
This puppy is a bullmastiff. Photo courtesy of Depositphotos

While I will always advocate for shelter animals, some people want a specific breed or designer breed of puppy. Let me be the first to say that there are some excellent breeders out there. They turn out wonderful dogs and cats and work hard to keep their animals healthy. In other instances, breeders are in it for the money and are churning out puppies or kittens as fast as they can. While buyers should always be careful, in these particular instances buyers must do their homework to be sure they are getting quality pets. Unless you have successfully dealt with the breeder before, let the buyer beware.

In the U.S., despite our love for our furred, feathered, and scaly companions, all animals are property. As such, laws including those covering contracts and fraud will often be in place when a pet is sold. These laws generally include merchants such as pet stores and breeders, but they do not include your neighbor whose dog got knocked up and is now trying to off-load the litter. In about half the states in the U.S., there also may be laws specific to the purchase of companion animals. These Purchaser Protection Acts, commonly referred to as Puppy Lemon Laws, will cover different species of animal for purchase, and different sellers of those animals, depending upon the state in question. They also outline what is expected of and the rights of the seller and the buyer, as well as the time frame in which the law is active, usually about 10-14 days after purchase. Finally, should the pet turn out to be a lemon, the law outlines the options for the buyer. These often include returning the pet for a refund, exchanging the pet for a new one, or keeping the pet and receiving some level of compensation for veterinary care.

There are many recommended ways to evaluate a breeder prior to purchase. Some general rules of thumb include meeting the breeder and the puppy's parents in person, being patient in waiting for the right puppy from the right breeder, and asking for documentation indicating the puppy's parents (and, ideally, grandparents) are free from breed-specific disorders, such as hip dysplasia in Labrador Retrievers. Also, realize that a puppy from parents certified by the American Kennel Club does not guarantee it is healthy (see resources below). It is also recommended that the purchaser review any pertinent medical and vaccine records for the puppy and receive copies. The issue is that paperwork can be falsified.

In one of the more unscrupulous ways a seller may try to defraud a buyer, the seller may invoke the good name of a veterinarian. Perhaps the paperwork is completely fraudulent. Maybe the seller did see that veterinarian once, but is now reusing vaccination certificates by editing the dates and pet names. (This very situation was a recent discussion among colleagues in an online forum.) I would suggest that if you're buying a companion animal and the seller provides documentation of any kind of veterinary visit, take the time to search the veterinarian's name and the clinic's name on the internet. Check to see that the veterinarian is listed as being employed at that clinic. Granted, it is possible the website is out of date, so consider calling the clinic to confirm that the veterinarian named by the seller works there and that the seller has had your puppy seen. Due to client confidentiality laws, the clinic may hesitate to offer much information specifically about the seller or puppy without the seller's consent, but if the clinic says they cannot find anyone in their database by the seller's name, you have your answer. Even worse if the veterinarian has never been employed at that clinic.

With any luck, the companion animal you purchase will bring you many, many years of joy. It is worth it to take the time to find the right breeder for your new companion.


Puppy Buying

Michigan State University Animal Law Legal Center, Table of Pet Purchaser Protection Acts 

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