Your Rights When Buying a Dog

By Randolph, Mary; Murdoch, Guy | Consumers' Research Magazine, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Your Rights When Buying a Dog


Randolph, Mary, Murdoch, Guy, Consumers' Research Magazine


Two kinds of laws come into play when a dog is sold: those that restrict how sellers can operate, and those that protect buyers, giving them the right to certain information before the sale and some rights after the sale. This article looks at what the law requires sellers to tell buyers, how to put a sales agreement in writing, and what to do if you're unhappy after you buy a pet.

Most law that governs animals is local: it is controlled by cities and counties. State law is involved to a lesser, but increasing, degree and federal law hardly at all. So, while "dog law" varies every time you cross a city boundary, there are certain things to look for and expect. The local nature of dog law is usually an advantage when you're trying to find out the rules in your town. Your legal research may be as simple as going to the public library, opening up the big three-ring binder that contains the city ordinances, and reading the entries under "Dogs."

Regulating Sellers

Many of the laws controlling dog sellers are aimed at pet shops, but some also affect anyone who puts an "adorable puppies for sale" classified ad in the paper after the family dog has a litter of pups. Here are the basics.

Health and Age of Dogs Sold. It is illegal to sell dogs that are diseased. Anyone who does may be penalized, and will at least have to return the buyer's money. Retail sellers may also be fined for selling unhealthy dogs. For example, Pet Depot, found by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to have sold dogs known to be unfit for sale (among other violations), agreed in 1991 to pay the state $7,500 in penalties and costs.

Many states do not allow puppies to be sold before they are a certain age, usually about six to twelve weeks. Pennsylvania, for example, forbids selling or even giving away a dog that's less than seven weeks old.

Pet Shop Regulations. Most states impose only the most basic requirements on pet shop operators: sanitary conditions, proper heating and ventilation, enough food, and humane treatment of animals. Some (for example, Connecticut) also require animals to be inspected by a licensed veterinarian before they are sold. Most violations are misdemeanors and can be punished by fines, or rarely, short jail sentences. (Pet shop operators are sometimes also charged with more serious criminal offenses because of their treatment of animals.)

Because problems with animals from pet shops are so common, however, several states now require pet stores to make detailed disclosures to prospective buyers, and give purchasers stronger legal rights after the sale.

What Sellers Must Tell Buyers. Some states require a seller to disclose certain facts about the dog's health, age, and history. These disclosures are no substitute for a complete contract (discussed below), but they're a step in the right direction, because getting all the information you are legally entitled to may help you avoid problems. If your state doesn't require these disclosures by law, ask for the information anyway. You should be wary of any seller who can't or won't give you answers.

New Hampshire, for example, requires retail sellers to show prospective buyers, upon request, a health certificate for any dog or cat that's for sale. California goes further and requires every retail seller of a dog to fill out and give the buyer a written form, which is provided by the state Department of Consumer Affairs. The form lists, among other things:

* Where the dog came from (if it came from a licensed dealer);

* Its birth date and the date the dealer obtained the dog;

* Its immunization record; and,

* A record of inoculations, worming treatments, and any other veterinary treatment or medication the dog has received.

The buyer must also receive either a statement that the dog has no known illness or condition requiring hospitalization or surgery, or:

* A record of any known disease or condition requiring hospitalization or surgery; and,

* A veterinarian's statement authorizing the sale and recommending treatment. …

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