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Buying a Pet

Adopting a pet is different from buying shoes or a laptop. Pets are living beings, but the law treats them like other consumer goods.

Yet, some unique laws protect the well-being of animals sold as pets. There are also lemon laws and required disclosures that apply to buying pets. State laws set most of these rules. Note that there are different laws for service pets than typical companion animals.

Whether you adopt through a breeder, kennel, or animal shelter, you should understand the unique legal aspects of the transaction. Learn about the consumer protection laws that can affect pet adoption.

Disclosure Rules for Pet Sales

Regulations for pet sales typically focus on professional breeders and retail sales at pet shops. But, anyone selling puppies or kittens out of their home also might be subject to disclosure requirements.

Most laws require the seller to disclose specific facts about the pet, such as:

  • The animal's age (or estimated age)
  • Their health status and notable medical history
  • Their background
  • Vaccinations and inoculation records
  • Medications and veterinary procedures

Some states require sellers to hire a licensed veterinarian to inspect the animal and issue a health certificate. This inspection can ensure that all parties know the animal's health. You may also use this information if you apply for insurance for your pet.

States With Extra Disclosures

While disclosure of an animal's age and health is required throughout the U.S., certain states have tighter disclosure laws, such as:

  • California: Retailers must give each pet buyer a written document of the animal's medical history. They also must disclose from where the retailer got the animal.
  • OhioAny seller (retailer or otherwise) must inform the prospective buyer if the animal has ever attacked someone. If so, the seller must describe the event in detail to the buyer. They must also file the attack with the local board of health.

Because the disclosure laws vary by location, check your state and local laws before buying a pet. You can get peace of mind by knowing more about the animal before you bring them home.

Pet Shop Requirements

Pet store regulations set basic care standards to protect the animal before the sale, including:

  • Sanitation
  • Ventilation
  • Heat or general temperature control
  • Proper nutrition
  • Clean water
  • Humane treatment and handling

Pet shops sometimes source their animals from breeders in other states. Those states may have lax animal welfare laws, which help the store lower overhead costs. As a customer, you might not get some of the details that you would otherwise. That's why some laws ban sourcing practices like store purchases of dogs from puppy mills.

Breeder's Licenses

Depending on your laws, you may need to get a breeder's license if you plan to sell even one puppy or kitten. In some states, a single litter of puppies automatically classifies the owner of the mother animal as a breeder. Most states require disclosing a breeder's license for those selling puppies and kittens.

Pet Warranties and Sales Agreements

Aside from the basic disclosures, you should get other assurances in writing. A written sales agreement is legally binding between you and the seller.

Use the following considerations when deciding whether to draft a sales agreement when buying a pet:

  • Where did the animal come from?
  • If the dealer or breeder claims a dog was trained to guard homes, can they provide documentation as part of the sale?
  • Has the seller claimed a certain pedigree?
  • Did the seller imply any other guarantees that should be in the written agreement?

If your state has no pet lemon law, consider adding similar conditions as a warranty. For example, an agreement may allow you to return the animal if it is unhealthy within the first two weeks.

Can I Get a Refund for a Pet?

You may have options to seek a refund of the pet purchase price in some cases. Pet returns and refunds depend on the sale terms and state laws.

Store returns are standard for items like clothing and household goods. But returns can be more complicated for animals.

Returning a New Pet

Owning a pet can be difficult and expensive. Some new pet owners experience buyer's remorse during the adjustment period.

Some agencies and sellers, such as the Animal Humane Society, offer return policies if you change your mind. A pet store may or may not provide a full refund, and they may have a short window for the return after the time of sale.

Failure to Disclose: Pet Lemon Laws

You may have heard about lemon laws for vehicles. Defective and faulty cars, or "lemons," give the buyer special legal options to remedy the problem.

About 14 states have regulations like lemon laws for animals that protect pet buyers. California, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania are among those with rules that residents often call "puppy lemon laws."

These laws often allow a consumer who bought an unhealthy animal to return the animal for a refund, an exchange, or reimbursement for applicable veterinary costs. Some such laws only cover dogs, while others apply to cats or other animals.

Time Frames for Pet Returns

During your pet's life, they may naturally develop new health issues. Sellers should identify current medical conditions but can't predict how an animal's health may change. That's why you usually have a limited period after the time of purchase to return the pet under lemon laws.

Below are two examples of pet lemon laws:

  • Florida: Pet buyers have 14 days to report infectious disease and one year to report hereditary defects for a cat or dog. The dealer might face penalties and misdemeanor charges in some cases.
  • New York: Pet buyers have 14 days to report infectious disease and 180 days to report hereditary defects for cats and dogs. There is no penalty for sellers who break pet dealer regulations.

State laws vary. Before your purchase, check the time limit for finding health problems. Scheduling a vet appointment in the first few days of ownership may be a good idea for buyer protection and the pet's care needs.

Exotic Pet Laws

Some people prefer more exotic animals than cats or dogs, such as ferrets or hedgehogs. Yet, most states restrict the kinds of animals you can keep due to public safety and wildlife welfare.

Examples of state exotic pet laws are below:

  • Arizona: Restricted animals include non-domestic canines and felines (like wolves and bobcats), most primates, crocodiles, alligators, and poisonous snakes.
  • Florida: Restricted animals include bears, chimpanzees, and rhinoceroses. You may keep animals such as howler monkeys, macaques, wolves, cougars, and bobcats with a permit.
  • Illinois: Residents can't own dangerous animals as pets, including large cats and poisonous reptiles.
  • Texas: Owners need a license to keep dangerous animals as pets, including bears, cougars, and tigers.

Check your state laws for more specific information about purchasing or trading exotic pets. Many states restrict animals and fish that are native to the local environment as well as foreign species.

Understand Your Consumer Rights

You might have many potential animal legal issues after buying a pet. If you have questions about your options, consider working with a consumer rights attorney. Complex cases warrant further action, even if you plan to keep your new pet.

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