PetLvr Mailbag: Stung by a Bad Breeder

Dear PetLvr Mailbag,

I recently bought a registered Yorkie from a breeder and after 3 weeks and about $1,000.00 vet bill, we have found out that the puppy died of liver failure he was born with. The breeder has offered to give us another puppy, but we can’t trust the breeder.

Is their any way they are responsible for our vet bills and to return our money? Also, is there someone here in Central Texas we can report them to so future buyers and their kids don’t get heartbroken like us?

Signed,
Barry H.

 

Dear Barry,

First, I’m very sorry to hear of your family’s loss. Getting a new puppy should be joyful, not heartbreaking, and it is always horrible to hear stories of puppies with congenital defects who do not live to adulthood. Sadly, there are many stories like yours. Purebred dogs are a creation of mankind, not of nature, and as such, anything but the most careful breeding can result in genetic defects. Selecting a good breeder is absolutely essential when acquiring a new dog, if adoption isn’t an option for your family.

However, you’re not the first, nor, sadly, will you be the last, to purchase a pup from what you thought was a responsible breeder and to later find that the puppy had a fatal genetic defect. In fact, so many people have had this experience that many states have enacted “puppy lemon laws.” These laws are similar to other lemon laws like those covering automobiles, and give a buyer certain rights and protections when purchasing a puppy. Some puppy lemon laws require that a seller who sells a dog with a serious genetic defect reimburse the buyer for as much as 200% of the purchase price of the dog; others provide for direct reimbursement of veterinary expenses, as well as the dog’s purchase price. However, in your case, a puppy lemon law does not protect you, because no such law has been passed in Texas. A complete listing of puppy lemon laws appears here.

However, that doesn’t mean you have no recourse whatsoever. Other methods of seeking reimbursement and warning other potential buyers exist.

Sticking it to a Bad Breeder

Did you visit the breeder’s facility when you purchased your dog? If so, did you observe the conditions in which the breeding animals and puppies were kept? Some disreputable breeders abuse their dogs by keeping them in dirty kennels all day, without attention or exercise. If this was the case with your breeder, your first call should be to the Texas SPCA, which will investigate the premises and may seize the dogs being abused.

After deciding whether or not to report the breeder to the SPCA, you have another important decision to make: Should you hire a lawyer? Knowing that the deceased pup was a Yorkshire Terrier, I can infer that the purchase price was likely steep; many breeders, good and bad, charge a premium for Yorkies, in part because they’re currently in high demand nationwide. Combine that with the $1,000.00 vet bill, and it may be worth the price of a lawyer’s consultation fee to determine whether or not you have a case. Some lawyers will even sue without an up-front fee, and collect a percentage of the settlement if the case is won.

You may be able to sue and collect damages under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The DTPA provides that “false, misleading, or deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any trade or commerce are hereby declared unlawful.” It also places an emphasis on “unconscionable” actions. The DTPA defines an “unconscionable action” as one that “takes advantage of the lack of knowledge, ability, experience, or capacity of a person to a grossly unfair degree.”

I’m not a lawyer, and you would need one to tell you whether or not you have a case. You would also need to disclose more information about the sale. Did you sign a contract? Did the breeder offer a warranty? Did she verbally state that the dog was free of health defects? Your lawyer, should you choose to hire one, will answer all these questions. Now, again, I’m not a lawyer, so please, confirm any of my advice with someone who is.

However, if I were in your shoes, I would retain a lawyer to write a sternly worded letter demanding a full refund of the purchase price of the dog, as well as reimbursement for the veterinary expenses incurred by your family, and threatening litigation if a check isn’t received promptly. Very often, in many situations, an official letter on the letterhead of a local law firm can do a great deal to secure the cooperation of a hostile party. However, know before you send a letter whether or not you’re actually going to follow through with a civil suit. If the breeder calls your bluff or responds with a letter from her own lawyer, it’ll be money down the drain unless you’re prepared to go to court.

Warning Other Buyers

First of all, make sure that you learn from this experience and tell family and friends to do their homework before buying a dog, and to consider adoption. Finding a breeder isn’t just a matter of looking in the classified ads or googling “Yorkies” and your city. Finding a reputable, responsible breeder takes time, knowledge, and commitment. Many people wait months for a puppy after starting a breeder search, and it’s not unheard of for a good breeder to have a waiting list a year long or more. While there are plenty of puppies in the world, there are few good breeders, and they’re hard to find.

I’ll write a post on that specific subject in the future, but for most people unfamiliar with dog breeding, the best bet is to use a site like Dogster or a local breed club to connect with someone who’s an expert in your breed and who can help you sift through the mountain of bad breeders to find the breeder who’s right for you. Knowledgeable people are generally happy to help folks seeking to add a dog to the family. Lending a hand in a puppy search is fun, and reduces the profits going to bad breeders whose dogs end up filling local breed rescues after behavioral and health problems turn up.

Speaking of local breed clubs, they’re a great resource to help you warn others away from the breeder who produced your pup. The Yorkshire Terrier Club of America lists two Texas clubs in their regional club directory. Call those clubs and give them all the information you have on the breeder, and if they have advice for you, take it.

In addition, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau detailing your bad experience with the breeder. Of course, if the breeder isn’t a member (and she likely isn’t), that may not be possible. The local Chamber of Commerce may also be interested in knowing about the incident. If she’s USDA-licensed, and particularly if her dogs were kept in poor conditions, file a complaint with the USDA; she may have her license revoked.

Lastly, Craigslist, Dogster, and local dog-related forums are all places where you can post to warn others away from a bad breeder; however, don’t make claims that you can’t back up with proof, or you could get slapped with a libel suit.

Good luck in attempting to make the bad breeder pay– both literally and figuratively– for her irresponsibility, and don’t make the same mistake twice; next time you’re in the puppy market, take your time and find a breeder who is well respected among experts in the breed, who produces both excellent household pets and champion show dogs, and who provides a guarantee against health problems. Bad breeders like the one who bred your poor pup thrive on hasty decisions and impulse buyes. If nobody hurried to purchase a puppy before thoroughly researching the breeder, there wouldn’t be any bad breeders, becaues they’d never make enough money to stay in business.

Sincerely,
Jelena

If you have a pet related question that you would like Jelena Woehr to answer here in our “PetLvr Mailbag” series … send your question to jelena (at) PetLvr (dot) com

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