Pet Lemon Laws and Nails in the Coffin

Pet Lemon Laws and Nails in the Coffin

By: Anna Sadler  Date: 10/31/1997 Category: | Animal Legislation | Canine Issues |

Cat and dog fanciers have long been their own worst enemies in the breeding ban wars, and the reason for this is the intense love they feel for the pets that they breed, show and that share their homes.

The responsible dog breeder, who spends hundreds - sometimes thousands - of dollars testing his breeding animals for all known heritable defects and carefully chooses a stud that is equally rigorously tested, still feels a personal pain when dogs of his breed are singled out by the media as "genetic time bombs."

The responsible cat breeder, whose cats are reared with loving devotion and the best of veterinary care, still winces with personal chagrin when a cat collector is exposed as being a breeder of pedigreed cats.

The list goes on. Puppy mills, deplorable conditions, purebred animals abandoned at shelters ... the fancier hangs his head in a very personal shame. The breeding ban crowd exploits this mentality at every opportunity. Anyone who has ever sat on a local task force has been subject to the heaping on of collective guilt for the few bad apples that appear in every barrel.

At long last, the data exists to disprove many of the earlier attacks. We now know that the numbers of animals - whether purebred or randombred - dying in shelters has very little to do with how many are being born, and that purebred dogs and cats account for only 7.3 percent and 0.9 percent respectively of all animals received by shelters nationwide (American Humane Association study data). We know that of those received, purebred rescue groups do yeoman's work in removing them, rehabilitating them, and finding them new homes.

Faced with this overwhelming evidence, animal rights groups are turning their attention to other issues to exploit. Pictures of one "evil puppy mill" being raided splashed across the evening news is sure to garner truckloads of donation dollars and a new platform on which to launch antibreeding, stiff regulation legislation, from state and local breeder licensing schemes to the recent Doris Day Animal League Petition for Rulemaking before the US Department of Agriculture. Never mind that federal regulations currently in existence, as well as state anti-cruelty laws and local nuisance and sanitation laws, are designed to control those very situations, and the answer lies in enforcement rather than new laws and regulations. Never mind that it is those very same existing laws that are responsible for the mills that are pictured being closed down, showing that they are adequate to the task.

Ever casting about for new ways to use fanciers' love of their animals and the collective guilt, the anti-breeding forces are marshaling behind yet more and newer ways to tack the first nail into the coffin of the cat and dog fancies. One of the primary commandments in the breeding ban bible is to build coalitions with other powerful groups, and what better group to net into their web than the veterinary community? Already reeling from attacks on their own profession, accused of not doing enough to provide their services at low or no cost to neuter every animal on the planet, the animal rights groups consider this group easy pickings.

Pet Lemon Laws

Enter the current push for "lemon laws" cropping up coast to coast, often with the backing of the veterinary community as well as with the unwitting approval of fanciers. Fanciers even provide input as to what is rational and reasonable by way of consumer protection from breeders whose animals lack the rigid screening techniques and veterinary care of the responsible breeder. Certainly a consumer has every right to expect a healthy pet, backed by reasonable guarantees usually already granted in kitten or puppy sales contracts. "Only the unscrupulous need fear these laws," fanciers and veterinarians are assured by proponents of this legislation.

These assurances were given to fanciers in the state of Florida. The tap-tap-tapping that can be heard are the nails of amendments to that state's lemon law being driven into the coffin. What began as the kind of sane and reasonable law that fanciers could and did support, has been amended numerous times since its passage, becoming ever more restrictive and expensive. Cat fanciers report that cost of the requisite certification is currently approximately $75 per kitten, an amount that can rarely be recouped in the sale price.

More to the point, consider the bill introduced into the Louisiana State Legislature this spring. Some reasonable provisions were included in the bill. There was the requirement that an animal sold by a breeder be at least eight (amended to six) weeks old (or if by sales agent or any seller other than the breeder at least 12 weeks), that it be "treated in accordance with all usual veterinary requirements for an animal of its age, including but not limited to, immunization against rabies and distemper."

Provisions to the Louisiana bill were slipped in by its writers that would require name, address and "breeder identification number(s) be given in writing to the purchaser," which of course would predicate a need for licensing breeders. Yet another provision would have required that "any person or business which acquires an animal for resale shall have an order signed by a purchaser, requesting that person or business to obtain an animal for that purchaser."

A written guarantee would have been required for each animal sold, along with printed information about "care, feeding, housing and common potential behavioral and medical problems relating to the specific kind of animal."

While these above provisions sink in, fanciers can devote some time to musing over the fact that some of these provisions are just and reasonable, and in fact are a common part of their current selling practices, and included in their own contractual guarantees.

But, wait!

Further into the bill's verbiage is a "right of action" against the seller in case of proof within one year of the date of purchase, that the animal has any hereditary or congenital defect not specifically denoted, as a "current or potential problem" (with the word "problem" left undefined), or contagious disease "verified" as having been contracted before transfer. In that "right of action," the buyer is granted recompense of "actual damages not to exceed $2500 for "any special care and any medical attention and treatment" resulting from the defect or disease, as well as the option to keep or to return the animal.

When an individual purchases an automobile or a major appliance, he is protected by laws that insure warranty against defects in manufacture. A live animal, however, is not an appliance, and diagnoses of whether certain defects or disease were pre-existing are not nearly so cut and dried as they are in the world of engineering and mechanical devices. This is reflected even in the wording of the Louisiana bill, in which "current or potential problem" defies definition.

Consider that if a puppy goes into a new home and some weeks later develops parvo, or a kitten dies months after purchase to feline infectious peritonitis, proof can be elusive or impossible to determine as to whether the disease was contracted before or after sale.

Even in the event that the puppy or kitten does, indeed, manifest a heritable defect at some point during that year, it would be the exception rather than the rule that the breeder or the pet shop knowingly foisted that defective animal off on an unsuspecting buyer. Note that this bill does not grant the seller the option of either replacing the pet or even of refunding the purchase price. Under warranty the defective automobile would either be repaired or replaced. Instead, the Louisiana proposed $2500 "right of action" clause is nothing short of punitive, and has the potential of destroying even the most responsible breeder.

Lemon laws such as this one and the much-amended Florida law serve to relieve the public of the obligation to exercise even the most elementary consumer discretion in shopping for a pet, and ultimately will serve to work in the favor of the very evils fanciers revile. The person who surfs the Net, pores over consumer report publications, reads warranties and searches for dealers with clean, professional stores when he is shopping for a refrigerator does not perform the same common sense approach when shopping for a living being to share his home. The answer is not in lemon laws, but in educating the consumer to look past impulse, to never purchase a kitten or a puppy because he "feels sorry for it," and to make informed decisions. If shelters that routinely collect sometimes hefty adoption fees were faced with the same sort of restrictive legislation, there would be a tremendous outcry. The foundation premise is the same, though that the consumer is entitled to a trouble-free, maintenance-free pet. Before fanciers succumb to the collective guilt that drives the lemon laws, perhaps they should call their local shelter and find out what warranty and right of action they would have should they adopt a puppy that later breaks with parvo, or a kitten that later develops feline infectious peritonitis.

This Louisiana bill was passed by the state's Senate, but killed in House committee. It should, however, provide insight into where the animal rights extremists would like to take pet lemon laws. Instead of nails in the coffins of the purebred dog and cat fancies, bills such as this promise to be the sledgehammers that annihilate them.

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