Pet Talk-Jan. 19, 2006

No lemon laws for pet owners’ broken hearts

By: Dr. Daniel Eubanks
   One of the post-holiday season joys I look forward to is examining the Christmas puppies and kittens.
   These cute little live fur balls adorned the collection of stuff under the tree and contribute greatly to the joy of the lucky someone’s Christmas morning. The bond between pet and recipient is instantaneous, and you can see the glow of pride and happiness on the new owners’ faces as they enter the exam room.
   Usually they leave 15 minutes later with the same glowing smile, but, sometimes, something happens in between, which dampens the occasion. Essentially they’re presenting the pet for a purchase exam and what if something is found to be wrong?
   Last week, one such joyous individual brought me a beautiful, happy little 3-pound Yorkie pup. Everything was fine except for bilateral inguinal hernias. This is a congenital defect — present at the time of birth — which should have been detected prior to sale of the pup.
   Aside from the emotional attachment component, this pup represents a purchased commodity, and the purchaser should be protected by some kind of consumer rights. In fact, laws do exist to support the new pet owner.
   The laws differ with each state, and some states might not even have such legislation. Applicable laws are only those of the state of residence of the seller so know the laws of the state from which you purchase.
   I’d like to present a summary — excluding details — of the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. My read is New Jersey is far more consumer conscious regarding pet purchases than Pennsylvania. This is too bad because Pennsylvania is the "puppy mill" state of the country and should, therefore, be obliged to be more protective of the consumer. Enter the concept of lobbyists in Harrisburg, but that’s another chapter!
   Pet "lemon laws" in Pennsylvania apply to dogs only and only from licensed kennels that handle more than 26 dogs per year. This conveniently excludes backyard or casual breeders from accountability.
   In New Jersey. the laws apply to dogs and cats from any establishment that handles more than five pets per year.
   The seller must provide a certificate of health verifying examination of the pet by a licensed veterinarian within 21 days of the sale of the pet in Pennsylvania; within five days prior to sale in New Jersey.
   The purchaser must have the pet examined by a veterinarian within 10 days of purchase in Pennsylvania and within 14 days in New Jersey.
   If the pet is determined to be "unfit for purchase" at this time, a comprehensive statement describing these findings and an estimate of costs to be incurred must be provided by the examining veterinarian.
   "Unfit for purchase" is defined as presence of infectious or contagious diseases within 10 days of purchase in Pennsylvania and 14 days in New Jersey or detection of hereditary or congenital defects within 30 days in Pennsylvania and 14 days in New Jersey. In New Jersey only, clinical manifestation of a hereditary or congenital defect in the form of illness or disability is extended to six months after purchase.
   Reimbursement options are similar for both states and in all instances are the choice of purchaser. Options include:
   • Refund (plus sales tax in New Jersey only).
   • Replacement.
   • Retain the pet with reimbursement of incurred veterinary costs up to the purchase price in Pennsylvania and two times the purchase price in New Jersey.
   Flash back to my client with the Yorkie found to have bilateral inguinal hernias. My statement of unfitness for purchase would be presented to the seller, and choice of reimbursement would be the right of my client. The pup was purchased in Delaware, and I have no idea what laws exist in that state.
   The hernias are repairable, but not without hardship and expense. Enter stage right — attachment and emotion. No state laws address these.
   My client is already very attached to this pup in two short weeks, and, in fact, so am I after only 15 minutes.
   We will repair this pup, and, hopefully, everyone will be content. The situation could have been avoided in the first place, however, with a seller’s health certificate accurately describing the pup’s congenital defect. Compensation could have been made with mutual consent at that time or the purchaser could have made another selection.
   The lessons to be learned are to know the laws of the state from which you purchase and deal with only reputable sources or accept the risks.