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You Could Be Leasing Your Dog And Not Even Know It!
Some pet owners who purchased their dogs from pet stores have been unpleasantly surprised to learn that they don’t actually own their dogs.
You’ve likely heard about people who have fallen on hard times and had their car or home repossessed. But if you live in one of the 42 states that allow pet leasing, your dog could also be repossessed if you don’t pay your bills. The scariest part is many pet owners don’t actually realize they are leasing their pet.
So, what does leasing a pet actually mean? Some pet stores and breeders offer leases disguised as payment plans to make it easier for animal lovers to purchase their dogs. Adoption fees can be thousands of dollars, especially for highly coveted purebred puppies and designer breeds. Paying that fee over time makes it possible for people who can’t shell out the cash all at once to adopt the puppies that captured their hearts. However, what pet parents don’t realize is they are only leasing their dogs until they pay the full cost. In other words, you may not actually be your dog’s owner until your payment plan is finished, which can sometimes take years. And if you don’t make your monthly payment, the pet store or breeder can take your puppy back.
The best way to understand pet leasing is to think of it as a car lease. The revenue model for pet leasing is the same as car leasing. Instead of a car dealership, the process of leasing a pet typically starts in a retail pet store, and the loan is made by a third-party contractor. Just like with a car, the borrower enters a contract, typically for two years, and agrees to monthly payments. For the duration of the lease, the pet belongs to the lender. The adopters don’t actually become the owners until the lease term is concluded, and the pet can be repossessed if payments are missed.
But according to the ASPCA, the problem is that many pet owners do not realize the payment plan they are signing up for is actually a lease. The fact that puppies can be purchased via a pet lease is typically not made clear in promotional materials, and is not obvious in the contracts. The ASPCA wrote that pet store employees are often trained to manipulate consumers into making emotion-based decisions and speed them through the adoption contract process. The new adopters don’t realize they accidentally entered into a lease agreement for their puppy until they get home, assuming they figure it out at all.
Making matters worse, these payment plans often come with high interest rates that double, or even triple, the in-store price of the puppy. There have also been horror stories of sellers who used the love pet parents feel for their dogs against them. For example, one story about a New Jersey woman named Angie went viral. After making her payments in full and on time for almost two years, Angie was shocked to find her final payment had suddenly doubled with no warning. The seller threatened to repossess her dog if Angie didn’t pay the extra money. Not paying would have meant heartbreak for Angie and her family, so she had no choice but to shell out the cash.
Unfortunately, Angie’s story is not unique. There is another woman named Danielle, who hailed from Long Island, New York, who shared her story, too. She didn’t have the cash flow to pay $2,500 for a golden retriever puppy upfront. As many pet parents do, she opted to do a payment plan, but was not aware she was signing up for a lease. Like Angie, Danielle was surprised when her final payment jumped from $145 to $338 a month. When all was said and done, Danielle ended up paying $1,000 more than she had originally agreed to in order to keep the pet store from repossessing her dog.
Most recently, a California-based company called Monterey Financial Services, LLC got in trouble for illegally leasing dogs in Massachusetts. A settlement filed in Suffolk Superior Court alleges “that the company violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws by purchasing and collecting on leases for dogs, which is illegal in the state. The settlement also alleges that the company had engaged in illegal collection practices to collect outstanding balances on the leases.” In order to settle the allegations, Monterey has agreed to pay $930,000 in debt relief and restitution. The company also had to waive any outstanding debt held by its customers and transfer full ownership of hundreds of dogs to the pet parents. Thankfully, no dogs were actually repossessed in this case.
As you’ve likely realized, pet leasing is highly controversial. Although these lease payment plants are pitched as a way to make expensive puppies more obtainable, they seem to only benefit the sellers and are padded with catches and hidden fees. Further, it is morally questionable to lease a living, breathing animal that has emotions, desires, wants, and needs. For these reasons and more, states began banning the practice in 2017. As of 2022, Washington, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, California, and Nevada have all passed laws that prohibit pet leasing. A similar ban has been introduced in Rhode Island and passed in the House, but the law still needs to be voted on in the Senate.
If you live in a state where pet leasing is legal, make sure to read the paperwork extra carefully before you sign any adoption contracts or sign up for a payment plan. Try to avoid chain pet stores that are most likely to sell puppies from puppy mills, and vet out breeders carefully. Alternatively, look for your next pet at an animal shelter. There are millions of homeless pets in the United States right now that would love to go home with you. And when you rescue an animal, adoption fees will rarely be higher than a few hundred dollars. Some rescue groups even do free adoption days when the animal shelters get too crowded!
Another thing to consider is your own finances. If your intended pet’s purchase price isn’t affordable for you, is now really the right time to adopt? If your new pet has a medical emergency, they could easily rack up vet bills in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. If you can’t afford to pay in full when you adopt your dog, would you be able to pay his emergency vet bills? If the answer is no but you still really want to own a pet, consider fostering homeless pets until your finances improve. The pet will only be in your home temporarily, but you won’t have to provide anything except love, playtime, and cuddles. The animal rescue or shelter will pay for medical expenses and provide all the supplies you need so you don’t need to spend a dime. When you are ready to adopt for real, you will have a great idea of what you are looking for in your next pet and already have meaningful connections in place with reputable animal rescue groups.