Friday, February 20, 2009

Buying a Dog? Do You Know Your Rights Under the Puppy Lemon Law?

This Pennsylvania statute comprises the state's Dog Purchaser Protection law (otherwise known as the Puppy Lemon Law). The law mandates disclosure of a dog's health history by a seller (defined as pet shop operator or other individual who sells dogs to the public and who owns or operates a kennel or pet shop licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture or the United States Department of Agriculture). If, within ten days after the date of purchase, a dog purchased from a seller is determined, through physical examination, diagnostic tests or necropsy by a veterinarian, to be clinically ill or dies from any contagious or infectious illness or any parasitic illness which renders it unfit for purchase or results in its death, the purchaser may exercise one of the described statutory elections.

This seems like a wonderful thing right? Now you can go out a buy Fido without worry. Wrong. Let's say you buy Fido from your local licensed dog seller and the next day Fido wakes up sick as a dog. (Pun intended.) You've come to love the little guy in the 24 hours you've owned him so of course you race him to the vet. The vet is a hero and saves Fido from whatever bizarre illness that seemingly struck the poor pup just days after buying him. The vet hands you a bill for $1,500. Now what? Ahh, Puppy Lemon Law, you think. The seller will have to pay the bill, right? Not necessarily. First, let's see if you fall into the group that is protected by the law.

1) Did you buy the dog from a source defined as a seller under the law?

"Seller" means a kennel, pet shop operator or other individual who sells dogs to the public and who owns or operates a kennel or pet shop licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture or the United States Department of Agriculture. The term shall not include nonprofit kennels as defined under the act of December 7, 1982 (P.L. 784, No. 225), [FN3] known as the "Dog Law."

2) Was the dog unfit for purchase as defined by the law?

"Unfit for purchase" means any disease, deformity, injury, physical condition, illness or any defect which is congenital or hereditary and which severely affects the health of the animal or which was manifest, capable of diagnosis or likely to have been contracted on or before the sale and delivery of the animal to the consumer.

Assuming these requirements are met within the proper time frame, and verified as required, by a veterinarian, you may be entitled to exercise your rights to a remedy under the law. Here are your options...

(1) Return the dog to the seller for a complete refund of the purchase price, not including the sales tax.

(2) Return the dog to the seller for a replacement dog of equal value of the purchaser's choice, providing a replacement dog is available.

(3) Retain the dog and be entitled to receive reimbursement from the seller for reasonable veterinary fees incurred in curing or attempting to cure the affected dog, subject to the limitation that the seller's liability for reimbursement shall not exceed the purchase price, not including sales tax, of the dog. This clause shall apply only if the purchaser's veterinarian determines the dog's illness can be treated and corrected by procedures that are appropriate and customary. The value of these services is considered reasonable if comparable to the value of similar services rendered by other licensed veterinarians in reasonable proximity to the treating veterinarian. Reimbursement shall not include the costs of the initial veterinary examination fee and diagnostic or treatment fees not directly related to the veterinarian's certification that the animal is unfit for purchase pursuant to this section. If, however, the purchaser's veterinarian determines the dog's illness is incurable, only the options in clauses (1) and (2) of this subsection shall apply.

So, in the above hypothetical, if Fido was purchased for $350, and you don't want to return Fido (imagine where Fido will end up...) you may be entitled to reimbursement of the $350 (plus tax) but not for the entire $1500 vet bill. Puppies are adorable creatures and tug at our heart strings. But I urge you not to fall victim to impulse buying. Many of those adorable puppies that you see in the windows of pet shop come from puppy mills. If you decide to bring a dog into your family, do your research and either go to a reputable breeder that stands behind the health of their puppies or better yet, visit your local humane society or rescue center such as the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area and give a dog who's been abandoned a forever home.


  1. The truth is that it does not matter what you can afford to pay. Pennsylvania, and most other states, have provisions in the Lemon Law that allow for recovery of your attorney fees in the event that you have a lemon. In that regard, most reputable lemon law attorneys (myself included) do not charge an up-front retainer of any sort. We rely on the merits of your claim and the applicable laws that we proceed under to account for collection of our attorney fees. In essence, in a lemon law claim, while you have hired an attorney to represent you, you typically will not pay him anything out of your pocket.

  2. The lemon law is loved by everyone because it is a guard for all consumers who purchase vehicles whether new or used. Not everybody appreciates the law however, because it is until you are affected, that you realize the importance of the lemon law.