Families tricked into leasing expensive dogs they thought they were buying

New pet leasing trend causing problems for families

DETROIT – A pet is often more than just an animal. It can be a member of the family. But imagine getting a dog and, within a couple of years, having that dog taken away because of writing buried deep in a contract.

There are plenty of different ways to welcome a pet into the family, and now the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is sending out a warning about pet leasing.

Anjanette Marcano and Kia McNeal both went to a Texas pet store to purchase a pet and were shocked to learn that their new puppies weren't actually theirs. Both were talked into leasing their dogs, just as you would lease a car.

Pet leasing is a growing trend and is unregulated in most states, including Michigan, but experts are warning people against it.

At the store Marcano and McNeal visited, the only things required to least a pet were a valid driver’s license, an email address and an active checking account. It was also required that you make at least $1,000 a month.

Pet store employees offer the financing or lease options, but the lenders are third-party companies. Customers never see or speak with an actual representative. The application and approval process is all done on your smartphone.

The two customers claim the final terms of the deal were not revealed at the time, inside the store, and their contracts were emailed directly from the lender. When they opened those emails the following day, they found that the contracts were complicated and difficult to sift through.

McNeal said she thought she was paying $3,000 for her dog in a payment plan, but the lease contract showed she was paying $300 a month for 24 months. That totals to more than $7,200. She also had the option to purchase her dog, but would have to pay an additional $450, bringing the grand total to $7,649.

Help Me Hank consumer investigator, Hank Winchester talked with Melanie Duquesnel, the president of the Better Business Bureau here in Detroit and Eastern Michigan.

Duquesnel said there’s been no connection made between leasing and pet insurance in the industry, meaning it’s not a good idea. She also said it's a red flag when someone tells you something is "standard lending language."

"Especially when it comes to leases," Duquesnel said. "There’s closed-end leases. There are open-ended leases. The variables of those are night and day different. If you don’t know what you’re about to get involved in, buyer beware. You have to step back."

Duquesnel also warned that there are too many variables to pet ownership that could make the commitment to lease even cloudier. If the animal gets sick or runs away, you’ll still be on the hook with that leasing contract.

If McNeal or Marcano misses a payment, the lease company can “retake the pet,” according to the contract, and charge them for storing and maintaining it.

Pet leasing companies say they exist for people who can’t afford to buy pets for full price. But the Better Business Bureau and the ASPCA remind people that, if you feel pressure to sign on the dotted line, it’s important to take a step back. Ask for the contract in print and read through it all before you sign, so you know exactly what you’re getting into.

To learn the best way to bring a pet into your family, contact the Humane Society or a rescue group, and talk with friends and family members to learn about breeders they’ve had a good experience with in the past.

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