If you’re thinking about getting a puppy or kitten, animal welfare advocates strongly suggest sourcing the animal from a shelter or a rescue group.
If you are determined to get one from a breeder or a pet store, you might want to double-check that you are actually buying the fluffy little bundle — and not leasing it.
That’s right: Pet leasing is a fairly new but very real industry, one that’s getting growing scrutiny from lawmakers and animal rights organizations.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals maintains that pet leasing is a predatory practice for pushing expensive puppies on people who can’t afford them and don’t always understand they are essentially renting an animal and paying far more than they might have realized.
That’s what happened last year to Natalie Sullivan of Brooklyn.
She and her roommate had been thinking about getting a pet. They were being very deliberate about their decisions, until they fell for a tiny black French bulldog-Boston terrier mix at a pet store in Queens. The friends couldn’t afford the puppy’s $1,450 sticker price, so they decided to take up a store employee’s offer of a “payment plan.” They would pay about $123 every month for two years, according to the contract.
Once they were home, Sullivan reviewed the paperwork and discovered that they weren’t the dog’s owners — and wouldn’t be for at least two years, when the lease ended. By that time, the women would have already paid nearly $3,000, and another final payment of $266 would be required before they could own it.
While there’s nothing unlawful about renting-to-own a living animal, Jennie Lintz, the puppy mills campaign director for the ASPCA, said the lease deals are ethically troubling, in part because the person caring for the puppy has no ownership rights.
“Being treated as an inanimate object as part of a lease is problematic,” she said. “It definitely raises issues about what people expect when they get a pet and the decisionmaking power they have.”
The most prominent pet-leasing firm, Nevada-based Wags Lending, maintains it “helps customers afford that dream pet when buying outright is not an option,” according to a video on its site.
But some legislatures beg to differ. California and Nevada passed bans on pet leasing, and the ASPCA is lobbying other states to do the same. The Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information blog recently warned about the practice, noting that people who lease pets can still be on the hook for payments, even if the animal dies.
“They are marketing to people who don’t have access to credit and who are looking to make a high-value purchase — a dog or cat that is worth a lot of money — which they just can’t afford,” said Anna Caballero, a state representative who sponsored the California ban.
Once she realized what she and her roommate had agreed to, Sullivan decided to dip into her savings and buy out the contract. She and her roommate ended up paying nearly $1,800 for the dog, which they named Jane.
“She is actually an awesome dog,” Sullivan said. “But I learned a very big lesson.”