Puppy Lemon Laws
(and why they aren't a good thing even though they might seem to be)
A Michigan group is trying to draw attention to the dangers of puppy mills and has proposed a law they think would protect pet owners.
The Puppy Mill Awareness of South East Michigan Group is proposing a “Pet Lemon Law.” The legislation is aimed at offering consumer protection for those who purchase a sick pet. So far, 18 other states already have similar laws. Here is a list http://www.malteseonly.com/lemon.html
This group says they hope this proposal passes in order to help reduce stress and veterinary bills that people have to deal with when they purchase a sick puppy. Many pet stores in Michigan receive their puppies from mills that keep the animals in filthy, crowded and unhealthy conditions. They say the USDA often overlooks these unfit conditions, and even allows the animals to be shipped long distances. But I ask, why not just outlaw selling puppies in pet stores and get the USDA to enforce the laws already in place? It can't be healthy to live in a glass cage 24/7 either, with people tapping on the glass and multiple strangers holding the puppy (not knowing where those strangers have been). Seems to me that would be a simpler solution.
Overall, many of these laws are creating an adversarial relationship between good breeders and puppy owners and doing nothing to stop pet shops from selling puppy mill stock. They don't stop breeders that crank out puppies in mass quantities either (even if they don't sell them in pet shops). While their intent is to stop puppy mills, the only ones they seem to hurt are the small, reputable breeders. The puppy mills and pet shops will gladly take back and kill a sick puppy - because it's all about profit and the puppy is just a commodity (read: property or chattel). This doesn't need to be the case. A reputable breeder wants to be your FRIEND and extended family! They CARE about the puppy for it's lifetime. I tell our puppy owners we are related "by dog" (and this is one of those optimal cases where you can actually pick your relatives!). I know we have stayed very close to most of our puppy owners and really want to know what is going on in their lives and help them as much as possible should their dog (even at 12 yrs) get sick. While we, as a "small breeder", may not able to fund massive vet bills when the unexpected happens - we do lend emotional support and expertise so that you can make the best decisions concerning the welfare of your family member. How many pet shops and puppy mills do that?
If they were to outlaw selling puppies in "stores" the puppy buyers would then have to go to the breeder's home or place of "business" (shudder at the word!) to get a puppy. They'd SEE firsthand where the puppy was raised and if the person was cagey and wouldn't allow them to meet the parents or see the puppy's ill siblings, or any other dogs in filthy kennels - wouldn't that be red flag enough? I mean, if you go into a place that is filthy, has 3 or 4 litters running around, the Mom or puppies look sick, the breeder hedges your questions - would you not question this? Apparently not. I've heard of some people that "bought the puppy anyway because they felt sorry for it". Well, to me this means you are being irresponsible! Why, knowing what you know, would you buy a puppy from these circumstances? (Yeah, I know, we all feel bad for these pups - me too and truthfully, I might do the same thing - but it's wrong and bad to do). The reason is, when you PAY for a puppy from circumstances like this (or a pet shop does) it just perpetuates it. The bad thing about pet shops is they sanitize the whole process - you get the puppy but don't have to SEE where it's raised. You don't have to feel guilty because you can pretend you "didn't know".
If you don't know that pet stores get their pups from puppy mills by now - you live under a ROCK. What you may not know, and would soon find out in your research, is that a lot of "breeders" are NOT what they seem to be. GO there and MEET them, and SEE the conditions their dogs live in. I'm sure that if you have any intelligence at all you'll soon recognize a good breeder from a bad one. It's NOT that hard and doesn't need "regulating" if people are willing to take the time and responsibility for their own actions (finding a healthy puppy).
Another thought...do you really think Rescues and Humane Societies will be exempt from these laws? Not really...not when they adopt out (for money) a dog that turns out to be sick. What will stop dog buyers from using Lemon Laws on Rescues? After all, they DID sell you a dog with a heart defect or seizures. Will Rescues be able to absorb litigation that takes years - afford medical bills on a dog that slipped through evaluation and has some hereditary disease they missed? Most Rescues are dirt poor. Lemon Laws will inhibit and destroy rescues. Even if they are exempted, what is to stop a sleazy breeder or unethical puppy mill from dumping that whole litter of sick puppies at the humane society or rescue? When you don't have anyone producing healthy dogs...all you will get are sick ones.
This article appeared in a classified column attempting to help people buy a better puppy. I think that's GREAT! The public needs to be informed. However, some of the information presented is not accurate. Here's the link to the complete article.
My problem with this is it paints most breeders as deceptive people who intentionally deceive puppy buyers on purpose. It assumes most have a high level of education in the field of genetics (most do not). Its as if breeders should KNOW what genetic diseases or illnesses a puppy will develop in the future when it is sent home at 7-9 weeks old! A careful breeder knows his lines, and has a fair idea of what is back there. However, there is no way of knowing WHAT WILL ACTUALLY BE. While it's true you often have no recourse (especially if you do all the wrong things - buy from a pet store, don't have a contract, go against your gut instinct) - it's also true that you should do your homework. People buy from sleazy, unscrupulous car salesmen every day. They buy used stuff on Craig's list. They purchase on eBay....the same rules apply. The saying Caveat Emptor applies. All the "lemon laws" in the world will not help the heartache when you discover your pup has juvenile cataracts and will go blind at 2 or a heart murmur and drops dead at 5. Such is life...the breeder didn't foresee it either. A good breeder will tell you everything he knows and let you decide what problems you can and can't live with should they turn up.
The government will NEVER be a good judge of careful breeding. Judging what careful is implies trust, and you need to trust your breeder. If you don't - why are you getting a family member from this person? If you adopted a child would you get a referral from your local drug dealer and adopt the kid from the crack-addicted Mom's Pimp through the black market? No, you'd go through a reputable agency. Does that reputable agency guarantee the child you adopt will have perfect health for it's LIFETIME? I don't think so....(at least I haven't heard of child lemon laws...)
Sounds innocent enough doesn't it? Not really....Since when are ear infections, sickness, accidents, skin infections GENETIC abnormalities? These things are caused by viruses, bacteria, contageous disease and can't be tested for unless they already exist. A CAREFUL breeder will take the puppy to a vet and have many of these things ruled out as existing before the pup goes home - can you test for EVERYTHING...get real! However, this implies breeders should be testing the parents for a genetic marker for "chronic ear infections"? ...I would love to know about this test because as far as I can tell, it doesn't exist. How about a test for "constantly sick"? Perhaps this is just sloppy writing but some people will take this as gospel! A good breeder will test within reason for common genetic conditions known to the breed and his lines...but even genetic testing is merely a panacea because things can still go wrong. I'm aware of a case where both parents were OFA' d with excellent hips - and the entire litter was dysplastic. Or both parents were completely healthy and the whole litter was epileptic! There are no tests for Epilepsy (heck, they aren't even sure what epilepsy IS - epilepsy is diagnosed by ruling out a myriad of other things it's not) and likewise with many other common diseases. While Epilepsy probably DOES have a genetic link sometimes, it can also be idiopathic - in other words it just happens. Another example is bloat. Some lines are just rife with bloat - but there is no way of knowing which dogs will and will not bloat. While it MAY have a genetic component - we're just not sure and there is no "bloat test". I think statements like these leave unrealistic expectations on the part of the puppy buyer. This is my beef with it. No puppy is perfect (although all puppies are cute!).
Overall, I'm sure the purpose of the article was meant to be helpful. Unfortunately, they didn't do their research. Unfortunately, people with this lack of knowledge are, and should not be, writing the Puppy Lemon Laws. Poorly written laws hamstring good breeders and do nothing to help puppy buyers in many states. All they serve to do is make puppies more expensive and almost HELP the factory farm puppy mills because they will be the only ones that can afford the regulations and the expense of being sued under the Lemon Laws. It will stop a lot of careful, reputable breeders that don't have deep pockets from breeding because they aren't psychic enough to know which owners will be unreasonable - and which will understand a puppy is a living, breathing being that like a child, and doesn't come with guarantees of perfection. Puppy Lemon Laws give buyers a false sense of security so they get lazy about doing their homework before buying a puppy. The reputable people don't need Lemon Laws to breed healthy dogs - they'd do it anyway!
What we need to address is that old 1919 Dog Law which is once again causing problems - not make "new laws". You know, THAT 1919 Dog Law that I've been harping on that says dogs are table lamps (chattel - a piece of inanimate property). Adding a Lemon law without changing the 1919 Dog Law would essentially allow your veterinarian, who is a licensed, schooled professional, kill or maim your dog with impunity when he makes an error of judgment. Whereas a dog breeder, who is likely self-taught with no professional training, gets held to a standard HIGHER than a PHD Geneticist when he makes an error of judgment in his breeding program. Including held liable for errors that could not be foreseen or predicted because the technology doesn't exist. Under the 1919 law even the vet isn't required to replace the dog with a similar dog of comparable value and pay a lifetime of medical bills. Somehow this doesn't seem right or fair to anyone.
You and I both know that once you fall in love with a puppy it becomes a family member you will not want to "return it to the store" for a new one - as if it were a defective lamp. Laws are already in place that address cleanliness of kennels and sanitation through the Dept. of Agriculture which could eliminate a lot of parasitic and bacterial disease if they were just enforced. Paying for all the "vet bills" in the world doesn't stop yours or the puppy's suffering when it has a serious congenital disease. You are in love and know the pet shops and puppy mills will just kill the puppy when you return it, so it rarely happens. The pet shops and puppy mills get off scott-free counting on this. If these animals had some standing somewhere between child and lamp you'd have recourse automatically - maybe more because there would be acknowledgement that the pet has feelings and feels pain. Your pet's suffering would be addressed by current laws on sanitary conditions and health. Your suffering would be addressed as well because the dog wouldn't be just a lamp with little "value". Just enforcing existing laws for sanitation and health would go a long way toward preventing problems with genetic disease. How you ask? Well, do you think for one minute that someone whose dogs live in filth give a whit about genetic problems?
We can enforce the existing laws, rather than create problems for all the reputable people out there that really do try their best to raise healthy, well adjusted puppies. Those people have good contracts and take care of their puppy owners the best they can already - they address ahead of the sale, in a detailed contract, what they will and will not do should unforeseen problems arise. You know where you stand and you don't have to sue to get it.
Unfortunately this does take a certain amount of personal responsibility to check out the breeder, not be impulsive and buy from a pet shop, to GO to the facilities, and MEET the breeder's dogs and last of all, go with your gut about trusting the breeder. If you screw up - take responsibility for your screw-up (you didn't check them out well enough) and don't expect someone else to bail you out (Lemon Laws).
One thing Lemon Laws have done well is address minimum standards of care. In other words, how soon a puppy can go to it's new home, or prohibiting puppy raffles, are good examples. But there are exceptions as well. While it may be ok for a Malamute to go home at 7 weeks (we think 9, but that's just us)...a 7 week old Yorkie is MUCH too small. Then again, some owners with experience, and no kids, may be perfectly capable of taking care of a puppy that is "too young" - while others aren't capable of taking care of an adult! So how do we determine this? Painting with a wide brush is sometimes good, but you can also miss the corners!
Unfortunately it's a fine line we walk and the easy solution is more laws that do nothing but stop the reputable people from doing what they do well. Like the way our jobs and manufacturing has been off-shored - Lemon Laws will do nothing but force dog breeding out of the country and overseas where it's again sanitized. Do you really want to leave the raising of your new family member to the same people that EAT dogs and skin them alive? I don't think so.