Imagine your beloved pet wasn’t actually yours to own, and you were being charged exorbitant costs just to keep him from being taken away. That’s exactly the nightmarish scenario one family found itself in after unknowingly entering into a predatory puppy leasing scheme.
In September 2017, sisters Allison and Heather Schall visited the Breeders Club of America pet store in Middletown, New Jersey, their hearts set on finding the perfect puppy for their mom. They found Cooper, a Golden Retriever puppy available for $3,700. When the sisters said they couldn’t afford the pup at that price, the store offered to let them make monthly payments on Cooper over a two-year period. They also promised to reimburse the Schalls for any veterinary expenses resulting from preexisting conditions, yet noted that this was unlikely to be necessary as the puppy was “perfect” and “top shelf.” The sisters agreed to the terms and brought Cooper home.
After making several payments on their dog, the Schalls were concerned to find that the remaining payoff balance had not changed. It was then that they closely reviewed their contract and discovered that the language referenced a “lease” and a “renting fee.” In total, the cost will amount to over $5,000 to a leasing company—and unless the Schalls continue to make monthly payments, and pay an additional “balloon payment” of over $500 at the conclusion of the lease, the leasing company has the right to repossess Cooper.
Most puppies sold in pet stores come from commercial breeding facilities, where dogs are frequently kept in cramped and dirty conditions and deprived of social contact, which may result in serious medical and behavioral problems. Cooper has faced multiple health problems including kennel cough, intestinal worm infections, patches of missing fur, a congenital defect and an enlarged heart—conditions indicative of stress, substandard housing and cruel breeding. Despite the pet store’s initial promise to cover veterinary expenses, it has refused to cover Cooper’s medical costs.
The Schalls later discovered that Cooper’s breeder was Bob Mehmert, falsely represented by Breeders Club as a “reputable breeder.” From 2010 through at least 2016, Mehmert was cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Inspectors noted dirty, rusty cages, dogs with matted fur and cloudy eyes, and found that Mehmert failed to provide adequate veterinary care.
Today, the ASPCA filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Schalls against Breeders Club and all the deceptive financing companies involved in Cooper’s story. In addition to holding the pet store and leasing companies financially accountable, this suit will put the pet industry on notice that these predatory arrangements are vulnerable to legal challenge in New Jersey and elsewhere.
The suit will also reinforce our efforts to ensure the public is aware of this deceptive practice and inspire lawmakers to take action to protect consumers and pets. The ASPCA supports efforts to ban this deplorable practice through legislation, as has already happened in Nevada and California. New York is poised to become the third state to ban this practice, and we are currently working to ban pet leasing in New Jersey.
Pet leasing schemes benefit the lending company and the pet seller—not the consumer, and certainly not the puppy.