Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Options for families who purchase sick pets

Purchase a sick puppy? Sold the wrong breed? Misled by financing options resulting in a high interest rate loan or even “puppy rental” agreement?

I used to tell Michigan families they had little recourse without specific Pet Warranty Laws in place, but over the last few years things have changed. Ten years ago, big box stores would simply ignore families dealing with excessive veterinary bills. Now stores are facing lawsuits with multiples plaintiffs through a law firm out of Farmington Hills specializing in pet store retail fraud cases. Puppy stores are not necessarily changing their business practices, instead they are offering money to remove or avoid negative reviews and stay out of court. Some buyers have been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement or “gag” document - another ugly practice associated with puppy stores. 

Haas & Goldstein has been representing families, on contingency, giving them a stronger voice together with other plaintiffs. They successfully collected damages for over 30 plaintiffs in the Gibraltar Trade Center case and are currently representing 26 plaintiffs in the Petland Novi cases.

Here is some general advice for families who purchase a sick puppy from a pet store:
  • Take the puppy to a neutral veterinarian not associated with the pet store.
  • Do not allow the puppy to come into contact with other animals.
  • Do not accept partial refunds from the store until all treatments are complete.
  • Do not accept another puppy that may also be ill or have genetic issues.
  • Do not sign a non-disclosure agreement to receive reimbursements.
  • See the list of options below for obtaining refunds or reimbursements.
Whether the puppy is showing signs of illness or not, buyers are encouraged to take the puppy to a neutral veterinarian with no connection to the pet store for a full wellness exam, including stool testing. Kennel cough is a common issue with pet store puppies which can quickly turn into life threatening pneumonia and should be treated quickly. Giardia is also commonly diagnosed in pet store puppies. It is an intestinal parasite, which may be resistant to antibiotics taking months to cure. Giardia is zoonotic and can transfer to humans, dogs, and cats. Wait until the puppy is healthy to include all veterinary expenses. If buyers accept partial refunds, they may loose their right to pursue legal action later. 

Does your puppy look like a different breed or a mix breed and is suppose to be a purebred?

1. Obtain a DNA test.

2. Ask the puppy store for a full refund of the purchase price. See the list of options below for obtaining refunds.

3. File appropriate complaints.

It is not uncommon for puppy buyers to take pet stores to small claims court and win with DNA testing. Two puppy buyers won their case in small claims using DNA testing to prove Petland Novi sold them the wrong breed. These cases can be found online (Case #14-C08388 and Case #16-C01572). One buyer used Wisdom Panel for her DNA testing.  

Families have four options for obtaining refunds, reimbursements or for settling other disputes with puppy stores.

1. Work directly with the pet store or financing company.

2. Use a mediator such as the Better Business Bureau.  

3. File a civil complaint in small claims court.

4. Find an attorney and file a general civil complaint.

Option #1 

Work directly with the pet store or financing company.  

Most disputes can be handled directly through the pet store or financing company, however, if puppy buyers choose this option, unfortunately, the store will continue to sell sick puppies to the next family. My organization encourages families to speak with the Haas & Goldstein law firm for advice. They may discover a pattern of behavior that could help end the misleading practices. 

Buyers should be well prepared before dealing with the store themselves. One would believe that pet stores would worry about their reputation or potential referrals; instead they have been working harder to mislead and move on.

If the store can not afford the extra veterinary expenses, they will simply offer families another puppy and hope to resell the returned one. This option is not the best for the puppy and there is no guarantee the replacement puppy will be free of illnesses or illnesses or genetic issues.

Buyers should be able to obtain a full refund or reimbursements without returning the puppy or signing a non-disclosure agreement or “gag” document.

Some Petland Novi customers were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for reimbursements or refunds. They were asked not to hold Petland, Twelve Oaks Mall, Northlake Pets Inc., VCA Animal Hospitals, or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates responsible, nor could they post anything negative on the internet, go to the media, or do anything defamatory against Petland Novi to obtain reimbursements or refunds.

Again, if the store is pushing a non disclosure agreement, it maybe time to contact Haas & Goldstein.

Posting a negative online review does not always guarantee the store will respond, however, online reviews will help warn other families looking to bring a pet into their home.

Buyers who were misled about the financing language because the store employee did not understand them or wanted to make the sale by glossing over them, can contact the lending or leasing company directly. Some lenders offer a money-back guarantee for the first 30 days. After that, they may try to satisfy customers who complain. Buyers should obtain a copy of their leasing terms and new copies if changes are made. The contract signed in the store may not match the copy provided after the sale.

If this option works, do not forget to file appropriate complaints to help prevent the store from misleading the next buyer.

Option #2 

Use a mediator such as the Better Business Bureau.  

If the pet store or financing company is not responding, buyers can try using the Better BusinessBureau or the Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division to mediate the complaint. Complaints can be filed online.

Option #3 

File a civil complaint in small claims court.

Buyers who are unable to come to an agreement with the pet store directly or through mediation, small claims court is also an option. Again, this will not stop the store from selling more sick puppies. Before navigating small claims call Haas & Goldstein (248-702-6550) for legal advice and guidance on filing the appropriate complaints.

The average cost to file a small claim ranges from $30 - $70 and no attorney is required. Damages over $6,000 are not considered a small claim. 

Learn more about small claims cases

Option #4 

Find an attorney and file a general civil complaint.

Haas & Goldstein (Farming Hills, MI) specializes in pet store retail fraud. Families with large or small claims can contact Jennifer Measel at 248-702-6550

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