IN THE NEWS: Lease-a-dog? You’re kidding, right?

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IN THE NEWS: On SEP 13, 2017

Should customers be able to lease dogs and cats in the same way they rent cars, apartments or furniture?

California legislators think not. Both houses overwhelming approved Assembly Bill 1491, which would outlaw the practice beginning Jan. 1. The bill, virtually unnoticed in the final days of the legislative session, is now awaiting final action from Gov. Jerry Brown.

It would be cheaper for the customers to put the pet on a credit card, she said. At least that way, they would own the pet.

The new financing scheme has popped up in pet stores around the state in the last five years or so to entice people to buy expensive dogs and cats. But according to numerous customer complaints on internet sites like ConsumerAffairs.com, the customers often don’t understand that they are renting the pets – not buying them – and they don’t realize that the hefty interest rates mean they may end up paying two to three times the original cost.

And what happens if the don’t make the payments? Fluffy or Fido gets repossessed?

A woman listed as Kyndra of Sacramento wrote on the website in July about her bad experience leasing a high-end puppy through a lease agreement with Reno-based Wags Lending that was later passed on to a debt servicing agency, Monterey Financial.

“My baby was $3,000, however, the contract stated $9,286,” she wrote. “I told Wags and Monterey Financial that they were f*** crazy if they thought I was going to pay 9K for my dog.”

The bill to outlaw pet leasing in California was introduced by Assemblywoman Anna M. Caballero, D-Salinas, who said she was shocked to find out these types of transactions were going on.

“The rates charged are usurious,” she said. “They are marketing to people who don’t have access to credit and who are looking to make a high-value a purchase – a dog or cat that is worth a lot of money – which they just can’t afford.”

It would be cheaper for the customers to put the pet on a credit card, she said. At least that way, they would own the pet.

“You go into a pet store and you fall in love with a puppy and it’s a highly emotional purchase.” — Susan Lea Riggs.

Caballero was also concerned that if the customers miss a payment that the contract says the leasing company can repossess the pet and must approve any medical treatment given to the animal. Caballero said it’s not reasonable to expect people who lease pets to wait to get permission for medical treatment for their animal.

Wags Lending’s website features a video which says that pet leasing offers “more flexibility and access than traditional financing.” The video says the rental arrangement “helps customers afford that dream pet when buying outright is not an option.”

Wags Lending, which was the subject of a critical Bloomberg News report in March, has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Bristlecone Holdings, which owns Wags Lending, didn’t return several phone messages.

In June, Nevada passed a law outlawing pet leasing for similar reasons to those brought up by California legislators.

The American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sponsored the California bill to outlaw the practice because of the “predatory nature” of the leasing arrangements, said Susan Lea Riggs, senior director of state legislation for the group.

“You go into a pet store and you fall in love with a puppy and it’s a highly emotional purchase,” she said.

Animal advocates say their opposition to leasing is wrapped up in their opposition to puppy mills,

Riggs said that most small pet stores in California began offering lease options over the last few years. “It’s a fairly new thing,” she said, “but it’s expanded amazingly quickly.”

The video on the Wags Lending website says that if dogs are returned at the end of the lease, the company will make sure the animal is continued to be cared for. But Riggs questions whether that is true.

“A financing company is not equipped and it’s not part of their business model to care for an animal,” she said, adding that the pets would likely be turned over to shelters.

Animal advocates say their opposition to leasing is wrapped up in their opposition to puppy mills, which breed dogs on a large scale with an eye on profit over the well-being of the animals.

John Goodwin, senior director of the Stop Puppy Mills Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, said he was taken aback by the aggressive marketing for the lease arrangements in pet stores. “They have signs in the windows,” he said. They have laminated sheets promoting these services. It’s not clear that it is leasing. It looks like a loan. It looks like it’s putting it on a store credit card.”

He called the tactics “deceptive” and said they mar what should be a joyous experience – getting a family pet.

Goodwin said leasing just doesn’t make sense in this context.

“We’re talking about four-legged members of the family, not refrigerators,” he said.

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