“Defective” Puppies

Because puppies from puppy mills are more likely to have health problems due to poor care, many consumers are faced with significant veterinary bills or even the death of their puppy soon after purchase. In an attempt to hold breeding facilities and sellers responsible, several states have passed consumer protection laws that specifically address puppies. These laws, often called “puppy lemon laws,” have good intentions and theory behind them, but they have specific limitations that often render them ineffective. When passed, it was the hope of legislators and those working on the bills that financial loss would spur breeders and sellers to improve the care they give to puppies and breeding adults. But the laws are so seldom used that those changes have not occurred.

In most of the laws, the purchaser is led to a refund, another puppy, or reimbursement of veterinary bills up to the purchase price of the puppy within a certain period of time. When faced with a sick or dying puppy, most people choose not give the puppy back but rather focus their efforts on saving the animal. A common fear is that the seller will simply destroy the puppy rather than invest the money and time into restoring the animal’s health. Should the puppy die, most families are not ready to risk the heartbreak of yet another sick puppy from the same seller so giving them another puppy is generally not an option.

Because many puppy buyers are focusing on their puppies, they miss their opportunity to receive reimbursement of veterinary bills while the window of opportunity is quickly closing. Many consumers are completely unaware of existing laws, as they are not actively discussed by sellers.

The Laws

Seventeen states have consumer remedies when purchasing certain animals from a commercial establishment. Sixteen are state laws (AR, AZ, CA, CT, DE, FL, ME, MN, NH, NJ, NV, NY, PA, SC, VT, VA) and one is by regulation (MA). All seventeen states cover dogs, fourteen cover cats and dogs (CA, DE, and PA do not cover cats) and one (NH) includes ferrets.

All seventeen states give between seven and twenty days for the consumer to have the dog or cat checked for illness. One state (DE) gives two years to check for congenital or hereditary disorders, five states (CA, FL, ME, MN, & VT) give one year, and two states (NJ, SC) give six months.

Of the seventeen states, fourteen allow the purchaser to keep the dog or cat and get some reimbursement of veterinary bills. Reimbursement ranges from up to half the price of the animal (ME) to twice the amount paid for the animal (NJ). Three states (MA, NH, VA) do not allow reimbursement for expenses if the dog or cat is kept.

In all seventeen states, a consumer can exchange the dog or cat for another dog or cat, or get a refund.

Summaries of Laws/Regulations

  1. Arizona-A cat or dog purchased from a pet dealer may be declared unfit within fifteen days after the purchaser takes possession. Purchaser may: return the animal for a refund; exchange the animal and receive reimbursement for reasonable veterinary bills up to the purchase price; or retain the animal and receive veterinary fees for up to the original purchase price. Sixty day provision for congenital defects.
  2. Arkansas-Law contains consumer remedies which allow dog or cat to be declared unfit for sale within ten days of purchase, the purchaser may keep the dog or cat and be reimbursed for vet bills up to the purchase price of the dog or cat, and reimbursement must be made within ten business days.
  3. California-When a consumer purchases from a breeder or a pet store, the consumer has 15 days after taking possession to have a vet certify the dog as unfit, then the dog may: (1) be returned for a refund or reimbursement of vet fees up to the original purchase price, or (2) exchanged with the same reimbursement, or (3) the dog may be kept and the owner receives up to 150% of the purchase price for vet fees to treat the dog. Also, commercial dealers are liable for 75% of the purchase price if the dealer fails to provide any promised registration papers within 120 days. Any dogs returned due to illness shall receive proper veterinary care. If the dog will continue to suffer, humane euthanasia may be performed if necessary.
  4. Connecticut-Within fifteen days, the law stipulates that if a dog or cat becomes ill or dies of an illness that existed at the time of the sale, the pet store must either replace the animal, or refund in full the purchase price. Additionally, the presentation of a veterinarian’s certificate, stating that the dog or cat was ill at the time of the purchase, shall be sufficient proof to claim reimbursement of expenses. Pet shops must post a sign on the cage of dogs offered for sale with all historical information associated with the dog, and the phone number for the Department of Agriculture to register complaints.
  5. Delaware-A dog found ill or having died within 20 days of purchase (or within two years for congenital or hereditary conditions) may be refunded, exchanged, or kept, and the consumer may be reimbursed for veterinary expenses up to the purchase price of the dog. Sellers must post a sign and provide written information to be signed by the consumer of these consumer rights.
  6. Florida-Law stipulates that a dog or cat can be declared unfit for purchase due to illness within l4 days of purchase, and up to one year later for congenital or hereditary disorders. The consumer can receive a refund of the purchase price, an even exchange, or keep the animal and be reimbursed for veterinary bills up to the purchase price of the dog or cat. The reimbursement must be received within ten days of purchase. Dealer must supply buyer with written and oral notice of rights.
  7. Maine-Law stipulates dogs or cats can be declared unfit for sale within ten days or up to one year for hereditary or congenital defects; consumer options include a full refund, exchange for another animal, or retain animal and receive reimbursement of up to one half of vet fees not to exceed one half of the purchase price. Pet dealers must post rights of consumers, consumer must sign acknowledging rights were given, oral notice must be given of medical problems. Also, consumers must be given written notice that pet registry papers do not assure the health or quality of an animal.
  8. Massachusetts-Regulations stipulate that a dog or cat can be declared unfit for sale within l4 days. The consumer can then get a refund or make an exchange.
  9. Minnesota-Law stipulates that a dog or cat can be declared unfit for sale within ten days, and up to one year later for congenital or hereditary defect. The consumer can then get a refund or make an exchange, and be reimbursed for veterinary expenses up to the purchase price of the animal.
  10. New Hampshire-Within 14 days of sale, the law states that a purchaser of a dog, cat or ferret from a pet shop, shall have the animal examined by a licensed veterinarian. Within two days of the examination, if the dog, cat or ferret is deemed unhealthy, the owner shall be entitled to a substitution or a full refund.
  11. New Jersey-A buyer has l4 days to get a dog or cat declared unfit for sale due to illness and up to six months for congenital or hereditary disorders. The owner can get a refund or exchange, or retain the animal and be reimbursed for veterinary bills up to twice the cost of the dog or cat.
  12. Nevada-If a person purchases a pet and, within ten days, a veterinarian determines that the pet has an illness, disease or other condition that was in existence on the date of the sale and requires hospitalization or surgical intervention, the pet shop shall refund the purchase price of the pet if the pet is returned, provide the purchaser with another pet of equal value, or reimburse the purchaser, in an amount not to exceed the purchase price of the pet, for veterinary expenses incurred.
  13. New York-The law gives l4 days to have dog or cat declared unfit due to illness. The consumer can get a refund, exchange, or a reimbursement for veterinary bills up to the cost of the dog or cat. Reimbursement must be done within ten business days.
  14. Pennsylvania-Owners of USDA and PA licensed facilities, and pet shops that sell dogs must have the animal checked within 21 days prior to sale. If the dog becomes sick the buyer may return the dog for a refund, exchange the dog, or receive veterinary costs up to the purchase price. Length of time for guarantee of no congenital or hereditary disease: 30 days.
  15. South Carolina-Law gives the consumer up to fourteen days to have the dog or cat declared unfit due to illness and up to six months for congenital or hereditary cause or condition. The consumer can obtain a refund, exchange, or a reimbursement of the veterinary fees not to exceed fifty percent of the purchase price of the animal.
  16. Vermont-Law gives the consumer up to seven days to have the dog or cat declared unfit due to illness and up to one year for congenital or hereditary disorders. The consumer can obtain a refund, exchange, or reimbursement not to exceed the purchase price. The reimbursement must occur within ten business days.
  17. Virginia-Law stipulates the purchaser has ten days to have the dog or cat declared unfit due to illness. The consumer can get a refund or an exchange not to exceed purchase price. The reimbursement must occur within ten business days.