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kareval February 23rd, 2003 04:30 PM

Puppy Lemon Law
Many Puppy Buyer's Learn Shortcomings Of Puppy Lemon Law

How much is that doggy in the window? If your experience is typical of many South Florida residents, buying a pet store puppy can be an expensive and heart wrenching proposition. Florida does have a "puppy lemon law" that provides consumers some rights, but recovery of veterinary expenses to treat a sick dog or cat under that law is limited to the animal's original purchase price.

Under Section 828.29 , Fla. Stat. if your veterinarian discovers within 14 days that your new puppy was "unfit for purchase" due to illness or disease, the presence of symptoms of a contagious or infectious disease, or the presence of internal or external parasites, or if your puppy is discovered to be suffering from a genetic defect within a year from the purchase, the seller is required to either refund your purchase price or replace the puppy, and reimburse you for the veterinary expenses related to certifying the dog's illness. Alternatively, you can keep your puppy and demand the seller pay to treat the dog. But here is the catch. The seller is liable only up to the purchase price of the dog, and the expenses of treating a sick or poorly bred dog often greatly exceed the purchase price.

Take for example Mickey, a beautiful Yellow Labrador Retriever purchased for $500.00 from "Puppy Palace" in Hollywood as a Mother's Day present for Karen Valente of Davie, Florida. Mickey is a cherished member of the Valente family, who love him even though he suffers from elbow dysplasia in both elbows, hip dysplasia, enamel hypoplasia, and an impacted canine tooth. These defects are all genetic according to Valente's veterinarian. Mickey's veterinary medical bills to date total more than $2100.00, with more surgeries to come. The pet store where Mickey was purchased has refused to reimburse any of the costs, and Valente's efforts to have the puppy lemon law enforced have been futile. According to the law Valente could return Mickey for a refund of the purchase price plus up to $500.00 of the costs associated with diagnosing and documenting his many genetic problems. But even if the pet store would follow the law and she were willing to part with her much loved pet, she would still be out more than $1000.00.

Karen Petrella purchased a Maltese puppy in October of last year from "Puppy Palace" in Boyton Beach, later to learn that her beloved "Hanna" is suffering from lungworm. Lungworm is a difficult to treat parasitic disease that is common where many animals are housed together, like they are in "puppy mills", the commercial breeding operations that mass-produce supposedly pedigreed dogs for sale in pet shops across the nation. Petrella took her new puppy to a veterinarian right away, but the puppy's symptoms were dismissed as "kennel cough". Two veterinarians and several weeks later, the puppy's condition was accurately diagnosed, but after the 14 days provided in the law. Hanna's owner has a substantial veterinary bill, a very sick puppy facing a difficult and expensive treatment, and absolutely no legal recourse.

What is the solution? Better laws regulating puppy mills and pet stores would certainly help. Pet stores sell puppies from puppy mills with little regard to their health or genetics in order to make a profit. They bank on the fact that few people will return a dog that they have become attached to no matter how serious the medical condition, and are protected from paying veterinary expenses that exceed the original purchase price of the dog. The task of trying to enact legislation making pet stores more accountable to consumers is daunting; there are more than 3,000 commercially licensed breeders with well paid lobbyists poised to battle any regulatory effort that might adversely impact profits.

The best solution is not to buy puppies from pet stores. Animal shelters are overflowing with animals that need homes, including puppies and purebred dogs. If your heart is set on a certain kind of purebred dog, there is almost sure to be a rescue group for that breed. A list of Florida breed rescue groups can be found at [url][/url]

Purchasing a puppy from a pet store supports a cruel industry that churns out pedigreed puppies like factories turn out widgets. And though you may be tempted to "rescue" the poor pet-shop puppy, what you are really doing is giving economic incentive to the inherently cruel system that created it. If anyone deserves sympathy, it is the mothers and fathers of those pet store puppies that will suffer in cramped cages for their entire miserable lives with no one to rescue them.

Marcy I. LaHart, Esquire is an attorney specializing in environmental, administrative and animal law issues. She is a 1992 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law and a resident of West Palm Beach. She can be reached at [email][/email].

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