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Sick Dogs and Puppy Mills

Please, do not buy a pet. Adopt a pet.

Written by: Patricia I. James**

My eighth Post concerned taking care of your health and my next one was about my colonoscopy. My last Post was about veterinary malpractice and now this Post is about, among other things, a puppy lemon law. Time will tell if these follow-ups are going to be a trend.

I thank Scott J. Wilson, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, for bringing this subject to my attention. He wrote an article in the July 1, 2012 edition entitled “With ‘puppy lemon law,’ buyers don’t just roll over,” found at http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/01/business/la-fi-five-dogs-20120701. Thus, the inspiration for today’s Post.

It seems that these laws are pretty straight forward. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on these laws, setting forth all of the exceptions, etc. Rather, I am just giving you the highlights for your edification.

(1) With respect to sales of dogs by breeders or the retail sale of dogs, e.g., a pet store, if the dog dies, regardless of the date of death, the owner can either get a refund of the purchase price plus sales tax OR a replacement dog of equivalent value of the purchaser’s choice and reimbursement of reasonable veterinary fees. However, in order to do this, the owner has to obtain from a veterinarian, in writing, that the dog died of an illness or disease that existed within 15 days of the owner obtaining physical possession of the dog OR states that the dog died of a congenital or hereditary condition which was diagnosed within one year of the owner taking physical possession of the dog.

(2) If the dog dies within 15 days of purchase, there is a rebuttable presumption that the illness existed at the time of sale. What this means is that you, the new owner, do not have the burden of proving that the dog was ill at the time of purchase. Rather, the seller has the burden of proving that the dog was not ill at the time of purchase.

(3) With regard to a dog becoming ill, rather than dying, pretty much the same rules apply as set forth in part (1) but the owner has the additional remedy of retaining the dog and receiving reimbursement of reasonable veterinary fees in an amount not to exceed 150 percent of the original purchase price plus sales tax.

My research did not yield any case law on the subject so, at this point, we are left with a straight reading of these statutes with no interpretation by any court.

I don’t know if this law was enacted with puppy mills in mind but I would venture a guess that they were considered. A puppy mill is where female dogs are kept in cramped, dirty cages to breed again and again and again and again until, finally, they are too old to have any more puppies. They are then killed. This is mass breeding which, to my understanding, can result in behavioral and/or health problems for the puppies. As for the breeding dogs, these are dogs who never receive any kind of love or affection. They are simply used for profit. (For an excellent book on the subject, read Jana Kohl, Psy.D.’s, A Rare Breed of Love: The True Story of BABY and the Mission She Inspired to Help Dogs Everywhere.”).

I know about sick puppies first hand. I was about 14 when I came across a dog magazine that pictured all kinds of breeds and listed breeders. I fell in love with the West Highland White Terrier. We ended up buying one from a breeder in the mid-west. Almost out of the blocks, the little guy, Joey Laine, was sick. It was one veterinary after another. I don’t remember what all was wrong with him. I do know that he must have been hurting. He was hiding under the bed once and, when I reached under to try to get him…well, I can still see one of the scars on my right hand. Ultimately, we had to put him to sleep, not due to the biting, but because he was so sick.

Now, do I actually know that he came from a puppy mill? No, I don’t. However, considering that most of them are in the mid-west, and based on his condition, I think the odds are that he did.

Thus, I was well aware of that when my now former paralegal told me that she was going to buy a long-haired Chihuahua from a pet store. (Her being a “former paralegal” has nothing to do with her purchasing a dog). I was apoplectic. I thought that this was just supportive of puppy mills and that she should just adopt a dog. (You would be surprised how many pure bred dogs are available for adoption, e.g., see www.petfinders.com. Additionally, I was afraid that the dog would not be healthy. However, it was not my call.

She did ultimately buy the dog and the dog, Bailey, was fine. She had Bailey for about three years but then became busy with life and did not have time to spend with her. As a result, I ended up with Bailey. As it were, she had never had the dog spayed and, thankfully, Bailey had never become pregnant. So I took care of that, responsible pet mommy that I am.

Now, again, I don’t actually know whether Bailey was the product of a puppy mill. The pet store might have worked with a reputable pet breeder. Or maybe Bailey was just lucky.

Now, if you think I am being preachy, I am. I know that there are breeders out there who take pride in caring for all of their dogs in humane conditions. However, there are too many puppy mills out there (one is too many) that continue with this abominable behavior. So, if you are thinking of getting a dog, adopt.

I do practice what I preach. As an adult, I adopted my first children, two medium-haired female sister kittens from a foster care facility in La Jolla in January of 1992. They were born in December, out of season. (I think April is the actual season). Thus, they were named Sugarplum and Mistletoe.

I adopted my next child, a three year old male Lhasa Apso from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. That would be Riley. Then an acquaintance gave me a short-haired black cat because she was moving into an apartment with someone who was allergic. She had named her Blackface (Huh?) and I renamed her Psycho.  (For pictures of Riley, Bailey and Psycho, see Blog #10).

Now, if you find that you simply MUST have that Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or whatever is the latest dog du jour, (and you can’t find one at www.petfinders.com or at any of the other adoption sites, including your local animal shelter) do your research and make sure you find a pet store that does not buy from puppy mills or a reputable breeder. If no one buys from these puppy mills, hopefully, sooner than later, they will all be out of business and the suffering of these helpless animals will end.

**No portion of this Post is intended to constitute legal advice. The views expressed are solely those of the author.