Consumer Remedies For Problem Puppies

Effective October 1, 2012, new legislation provides protections for those purchasing puppies from retail pet stores.  The legislation stemmed from complaints that retail pet stores routinely obtain their puppies from commercial breeding facilities, also known as “puppy mills.”  Puppy mills are known for substandard conditions often resulting in ill-tempered puppies with severe health problems.  Current legislation targets these concerns by establishing extensive consumer notice and seller record keeping criteria and providing remedies for consumers who unknowingly purchase these ill animals.

Under the new legislation, retail pet stores must keep detailed written records for every dog and maintain these records for at least one year after the store delivers the dog to its new owner.  Where applicable, these records must include the following: (i) the breed, age, and date of birth of the dog; (ii) the sex, color, and any identifying marking of the dog; (iii) documentation and specific details pertaining to all inoculations, worming treatments, and other medical treatments including the date of the medical treatment, the diagnoses, and name and title of treatment provider; (iv) name and address of breeder; (v) the United State Department of Agriculture License Number of the Breeder; (vi) any identifier information including a tag, tattoo, collar number or microchip; and (vii) information relevant to if the dog is being sold as registered or able to be registered. Records must be available for inspection by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR), any prospective purchaser, and the purchaser at the time of sale.

Additionally, in the store, retailers must conspicuously post on each dog’s cage: (i) the breed, age, and date of birth of the dog; (ii) the state in which the breeder is located; and (iii) the United States Department of Agriculture’s license number of the breeder or dealer, if required.  Further, at the time of sale, the pet store must provide the purchaser with a health certificate from a state licensed veterinarian certifying that the dog does not have any known disease, illness, or condition that does or may adversely affect the health of the dog and that the dog does not appear to be clinically ill from parasitic infection.  In addition, at the time of sale, the purchaser is entitled to a statement detailing their rights in accordance with this new legislation.  This requirement safeguards consumers by ensuring purchasers are aware of the right to a remedy if they purchased a puppy with an undisclosed disease.

 A purchaser is entitled to a remedy if the purchaser had the dog examined within seven (7) days of the sale by a state licensed veterinarian and within 14 days of the sale the veterinarian states in writing that the dog suffers from or has died of a disease or illness adversely affecting the health of the dog that existed in the dog on or before the date of delivery.  Additionally, the purchaser is entitled to a remedy, if within 180 days of the sale, a licensed veterinarian states in writing that the dog possesses or has died of a congenital or hereditary condition adversely affecting the health of the dog or that requires hospitalization or a non-elective surgery.  Remedies include returning the dog to the pet store for a full refund, exchanging the dog for another dog of comparable value of the consumer’s choice, or keep the dog and the pet store will reimburse the purchaser for reasonable and documented veterinary fees, not exceeding the purchase price of the dog. 

Violations will be considered consumer fraud, and the law is to be enforced by the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office. A merchant who violates the law is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 for the first offense, and up to $5,000 for each subsequent violation.

For more information about the new legislation or to learn more about PK Law’s Animal Law Practice contact Joan Cerniglia-Lowensen at jlowensen@pklaw.com or (410) 339-6753 or go to http://www.pklaw.com/practice-areas/animal-law/.