Pet lemon laws
Know your rights if your new puppy isn’t healthy
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Research
As of 2016, 22 states have enacted pet purchaser protection acts, commonly called pet lemon laws. These laws protect pet purchasers, not pets. However, they aim to protect animals by making it financially beneficial for sellers to ensure their good health. Puppy lemon laws make it easier for pet purchasers to get their money back if a recently purchased pet becomes sick or dies.
Under puppy lemon laws, new owners typically have several choices if their new dog gets sick or dies. Options usually include returning the animal for a refund, exchanging it, keeping it and receiving a partial refund and/or being reimbursed for veterinary costs associated with treating it. To receive reimbursement for veterinary costs or the purchase price of the animal, all consumers should seek medical attention for their new puppy if it gets sick. They should also retain all paperwork related to the purchase and the cost of care.
Consumers living in states without so-called puppy lemon laws can often seek compensation from the breeder or seller if their new puppy becomes sick. In those states, however, consumers have rights under the Uniform Commercial Code, which isn’t as specific as pet purchaser protection acts.
It’s important to note that the information here is general. To understand their specific rights, buyers should contact the governing authority related to the sale of companion animals in their state, usually the State Attorney General’s Office, or a local lawyer.
For this article, I spent over 35 hours researching pet lemon laws and animal law. This included reading the text of pet purchaser protection laws for several states, reading two law review articles, reviewing relevant sections of the Animal Legal and Historical Web Center site run by Michigan State University and reading the American Veterinary Medical Association newsletter articles on animal law.
Who’s it for?
Anyone who plans to purchase a dog should be aware of the laws regarding the sale of animals in the state where the sale will occur. If you have purchased a dog that became sick or died shortly after you got it, this resource will help you understand your legal rights.
Purchaser protection laws
What protection exists in states with puppy lemon laws?
Laws and protections available vary even between states with pet purchaser protection acts. There is no standard for the length of time new owners are protected or for their options if their pet becomes ill. If you live in a state with a puppy lemon law, contact the State Attorney General’s Office or a local lawyer to get the most recent information on the laws in your state.
In general, the laws require the seller to take action if the dog gets sick, develops a hereditary problem or dies within a specified period of time. Although most states protect owners if the animal gets sick within two weeks, the exact time frame varies. For example, in Vermont pet owners are only protected if the animal they bought gets sick within seven days while those in Illinois have 21 days. The timeline for discovering a genetic problem ranges from one month to over a year, depending on the state.
In most states, owners have three options if their pet gets sick.
- Return the dog for a full refund.
- Exchange the dog for one of similar value.
- Keep the dog and be reimbursed for qualifying veterinary expenses.
State laws vary on how much can be reimbursed for veterinary costs and whether or not state taxes are included in a refund, if the owner wants to return the dog.
What protection exists in other states?
In states without pet purchaser protection acts, buyers’ rights will vary based on the contract laws in the state. If you live in a state without a specific pet lemon law, contact the State Attorney General’s Office or a contract law attorney.
Many of the protections in these states will be determined by the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). The UCC defines goods as moveable items that can be sold. While it may be distressing for animal lovers to look at their pet as a good, this legal definition can help them if their dog dies or gets sick shortly after they purchase it because goods come with an implied warranty of merchantability. The implied warranty means that goods should be fit for the use for which they’re sold. Courts determine goods’ intended use and whether or not they’re fit on a case-by-case basis. In the case of a dog, the use and fitness will depend on whether it was purchased as a companion animal or as a show dog.
Who do Puppy Lemon Laws apply to?
States with pet purchaser protection acts specify who must abide by the law. Breeders and sellers are often classified separately, and each group may have different responsibilities. Individuals who breed a small number of animals on their residential property and sell those dogs directly to consumers, sometimes called hobby breeders, are often excluded from the rules governing both breeders and sellers.
In states without pet lemon laws, contract law may only apply to the merchant who sold the pet to the consumer. The merchant might be a pet shop, a breeder or an individual who sells multiple litters of puppies each year. Courts will determine whether contract law governs a particular seller on a case-by-case basis.
Internet sellers may or may not be held to the same standards as other sellers in any state. Courts have a difficult time determining jurisdiction when consumers buy an animal online. If you’re considering buying a dog online, make sure to thoroughly research the seller’s reputation before you make a purchase.
Do pet lemon laws require sellers to provide registration papers for purebreds?
Some states’ pet lemon laws have specific protections for people who buy a pet that is advertised as being a purebred that can be registered with a specific group, like the American Kennel Club (AKC). In those states, if the seller fails to provide the new owner with the appropriate registration documents in a given period of time, the buyer is entitled to a partial discount or a full refund.
Buyers in states with pet lemon laws that do not specifically say the seller must provide advertised registration papers and those in states without a pet purchaser protection act may have some recourse under contract law if they clearly told the seller that they planned to show the dog.
Which states have pet lemon laws?
As of this article’s publication, the following states had some sort of pet purchaser protection act:
What should buyers do when they get a new dog?
To have the strongest case for receiving compensation if a dog becomes ill, buyers should take the following actions:
- Take a new puppy to a veterinarian for a general checkup within a week of receiving the dog, even if the dog seems healthy.
- Retain all paperwork from the seller and any visited veterinarians for at least one year after the purchase.
- If the dog becomes ill, take it to the vet immediately and retain all records and receipts from the vet’s office.
- If the dog dies, take the body to the veterinarian to determine whether it died of an illness that the breeder or dealer should have known about.
- Notify the breeder or dealer as soon as a veterinarian diagnoses a sick dog. Follow all veterinarian recommendations for treatment.
- Contact the agency that oversees puppy lemon laws or fraudulent merchants in their state, typically the State Attorney General’s Office.
- Contact an attorney who specializes in animal law or contract law.
What are the potential problems with pet lemon laws?
Although pet purchaser protection acts are partially designed to promote the ethical behavior of breeders and sellers, these laws may have a negative impact on ill animals. When a dog is returned to the seller or breeder, it is often cheaper to have the animal euthanized than it is to treat it. Similarly, breeders and sellers may choose to euthanize an animal with a curable illness instead of treating it so it can be sold.
- 2/28/17 Last Updated
- 35 Hours spent on research
- 4 Legal sources consulted
- 10 AVMA articles reviewed
- 10 State laws read
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