Pet Lease or Fleece?

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“Buyer beware” is not just an age-old maxim that applies to consumers visiting shiny car showrooms or touring pristine condos overlooking an expansive green space (soon to be a cemetery).

If one walks into a pet store without ready cash and signs a contract promising to pay in installments, they may be mortgaging two lives: their own and their pet’s. 

Thinking that they are signing a loan agreement locking in low monthly payments, many pet purchasers are actually signing a lease agreement leaden with hidden costs and fees. Many a borrower who thought their loan was paid off learns from their bank that there are about twice as many payments remaining before they own their pet outright.

Why? Because it was a least-to-buy agreement. And the buyout is extra. Should the buyer stop making payments in protest, the “loan” goes into default and a collection agency swoops in to repossess the pet. Mortified at this prospect, many continue to make payments at the expense of other financial obligations.

“I was like, OK, what bills am I not going to pay now, so . . . I can make sure no one is going to knock on my door and take my dogs away,” Courtney Peterman told CBS News. Peterman thought she was taking out a loan when she “bought” a pair of dogs from a Connecticut pet shop in 2015. Including her down payment Peterman expected to pay about $3,000. Her final “buyout” tab was about $5,600.

Terminating a pet lease agreement is no easy task - and could even add insult to tragedy. In the event the leased pet dies, the pet owner is still on the hook for the outstanding balance - the unkindest compound interest of all.

Though pet “leasing agreements” are legal in most states, the practice has been on the Federal Trade Commission’s radar for years. Pet shop owners are obliged to inform consumers that what they are signing is, in fact, a lease. Additionally, the terms of the lease must be clearly outlined. However, some pet shop owners do not provide full disclosure. The only way for the consumer to be sure is to ask.

California and Nevada have banned pet leasing. New York state is expected to follow suit later this year.

Pet leasing agreements are a way for heartless pet store owners to team up with predatory lenders to play bait and switch. Pet lovers are lured in by the promise of raising a companion animal free of the “issues” that they may believe accompany shelter pets or because they want the characteristics associated with a specific breed. Few bother to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. Many don’t recognize their mistake until it’s too late.

It isn’t enough that many pet store puppies endured the deplorable conditions of the grist mills or backyard breeders. They must also be subject to the trauma of being wrenched from their forever homes for an uncertain future.

Wags Lending certainly doesn’t care. Their “How to lease your pet” video spells out exactly what the pet lessee can do should they choose to avoid the buyout: “If they [the lessee] does not want to purchase their pet at the end of their lease, they can return the pet to Wags Lending where they will make sure the pet is continued to be cared for.”

News flash: a pet is not a car - or a credenza!

In the pet leasing scenario, we humans fail our companion animals three times. We breed for profit. We sell unscrupulously. We buy with our eyes closed.

Wake up! Shelters are overflowing with perfectly lovable and adoptable pets: the unsung bargains of a lifetime just waiting to get snatched up for negligible cost. 

Endless love in exchange for room, board and devotion.

Now, there’s a sweet deal.