ALBANY, N.Y. — May 16, 2018, 11:00 AM ET

Please don't repo Fido: Lawmakers look to ban pet leasing

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How much is that maltipoo in the window? It could end up costing twice what it says on the price tag if the buyer is enticed into signing a pet leasing contract.

That's what nearly happened to 24-year-old Natalie Sullivan, of Brooklyn. She and her roommate, she said, fell in love with a designer Frenchton puppy at a pet store but couldn't afford the $1,350 price tag.

"So the salesman talked us into this predatory payment plan," Sullivan said.

It wasn't until they got home with their adorable French bulldog-Boston terrier mix that they read the contract more closely. Little Jane wouldn't actually be theirs for two years, after they'd forked over monthly payments totaling nearly $3,000 plus a balloon payment of $275. If they failed to pay, it appeared, the lease company could repossess their bat-eared baby as if she were a car.

"It's a heinous thing," said Libby Post, executive director of the New York State Animal Protection Federation, which is lobbying for a ban on pet leasing. "This kind of predatory lending should not involve a living, breathing being."

Pet leasing has been drawing scrutiny from lawmakers and animal welfare groups since media reports last year highlighted consumer complaints against Reno, Nevada-based Wags Lending, which pioneered the practice. Nevada and California have now outlawed pet leasing, and New York lawmakers are proposing legislation prohibiting lease contracts "where dogs or cats are used as collateral."

"Pet leasing is a predatory practice that preys on people who cannot always afford a companion animal," said Assemblyman Matthew Titone, a Democrat from Staten Island, in the memo supporting his bill.

Like consumer loans, pet leases are offered to people who want to buy a purebred puppy or a so-called "designer" dog — such as the popular maltipoo, a maltese-poodle cross — but can't afford prices that often exceed $1,000 at a pet store. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says leasing options are popular with pet dealers because they are under pressure to sell puppies while they are still puppies, when they are at their cutest and most attractive to buyers.

"The concept of leasing a dog is new in our culture," Wags Lending, launched in 2013, says on its website. "We have carefully crafted a lease purchase agreement so that consumers can enjoy the pet that they have always wanted, when they wanted." The company, which says it has handled 66,000 pet leases, says it doesn't charge interest, like that on a loan. Rather, it charges a monthly lease fee comprising rent plus depreciation "compensating the business for the decrease in the product's fair market value while the customer is using the product."

The Better Business Bureau in Fresno, California, looked at the cost calculator on one pet leasing company's website and found that if you bought a dog for $2,000, you could have a monthly payment as high as $293 for 24 months, bringing the dog's final cost to more than $7,000. And if you stop making payments, "the company has the right to take your animal back and ding your credit score."

A woman who answered the phone at Wags Lending said "we have no comment," then referred the call to a supervisor who did not call back. Wags Lending's parent company, Bristlecone Holdings, filed for bankruptcy last year, but Titone's office said it's not the only company offering pet lease contracts.

Sullivan, who works in television casting, said as soon as she understood the costs of her lease, she tapped into her savings and paid off the puppy's purchase price — plus the $275 payoff fee.

"Thankfully, we got a nice, healthy, well-rounded dog," Sullivan said. "But I wouldn't buy from a pet store again."

Wags Lending assigned some lease contracts to Monterey Financial Services, based in Oceanside, California. Chris Hughes, president and CEO of Monterey Financial, said the company is aware of New York's proposed legislation and stopped accepting leases from originators more than a year ago. He called assertions of "predatory lending" and holding pets as collateral "patently false and inaccurate."

"Under no circumstances has Monterey ever repossessed a pet, nor has Monterey ever intended to," Hughes said via email. He said Monterey works with the consumer to keep their account in good standing. "The animal remains with the consumer even in the case of default."

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  • Benny The Jack

    If you are the type to go out and want a mill-produced designer dog over the thousands of perfectly healthy and loving cheap ones at the shelter, its kinda hard to feel bad for you for paying a lot.
    However, its very easy to feel bad for a dog who thought he finally found a family only to be taken by a repo man where, as an older dog then, its future most likely involves an inability to be sold (people who buy designer dags aren't typically the same type that'd take care of an old one) and euthanasia

  • USAF Retired

    Had they read the contract more closely, they would have known exactly what they were getting into. Anyway, who buys a pet with their roommate? What happens when you each go your separate ways? Oh, I know, they go to Judge Judy.

  • TexasVulcan

    Please consider adopting a dog or cat that needs a home from a shelter. Many are waiting right now.

  • Impetus

    If you truly don't intend to take the animal back, why not just give a loan instead of having people sign a lease?

    Also, I get that not all shelters have an animal you connect to, but if you can afford a pet store dog your money might be better spent traveling to other shelters around you to find the right companion.

  • Jenna

    I have ZERO SYMPATHY for people who get ripped off because they just haaaaad to have some fashionable designer breed. Breeding these animals is a disgusting practice that should be banished. If you REALLY want a companion instead of just a stupid fashion accessory, then go to the pound and adopt one!

  • Th3OnlyOn3

    I fear for any dog in a home cared for by people stupid enough to agree to these loans.

  • DeleteMeNot

    Rent To Own..... all such "sales" are predatory... but people want "stuff"

  • Rubber Banned

    If you're the kind of person who wants a "designer" dog like a fashion accessory then you probably deserve the result.

  • turtlemouth

    There are shelters full of animals living on borrowed time. It may not match your outfit but saving a life is cooler than anything in your closet.

  • snake

    There are wonderful pets at shelters run by the Humane Society and ASPCA and other agencies where for a small fee you can give a pet a home. They are the best way to find your next dog or cat.

  • lambimt

    Why would anybody finance a pet? If you cannot afford the price of the pet then what makes you think you can afford the up keep of a pet?

  • Dave

    Both needs to go away. You shouldn't be able to finance pets, and designer dogs need to not be a thing.

  • Mark T Bassard

    And yet these are the same kind of young folks who holler and whine about the rising cost a gallon of gasoline. However goes out and "buy" a pet pretty much on credit and cry crocodile tears when get taken by a PT Barnum. Go figure!

  • Blaize Rage

    I wouldn't buy a dog that costs more than $100. Get a pet from the shelter or humane society.

  • Elena

    If you love animals -- go to the pound ans save one fm death.

  • PhatDevil

    Here's a hint. Pup costs $1300 and you don't have that kind of cash on hand, then go to the bank and request a loan. And why the hell would you buy a $1300 puppy if you know when you saw the price tag that you couldn't afford it. IDIOTS

  • SouthernCT

    If you have a Pet get Pet Insurance. I just got hit with $6K! Insurance would have covered it.

  • Joseph Colorado

    Yet, the very same people that sign the leases can't drag their sorry butts to the animal shelter, pet rescues to adopt a pet .... oh, no .... they have to be like the dolts they follow on twitter and the media because they want to be just like a Kardashian ....

  • Yooper

    According to the article: "Pet leasing is a predatory practice that preys on people who cannot always afford a companion animal." Many wonderful companion animals are currently waiting for adoption, and are either free or available for a very nominal fee. This has nothing to do with people who can't afford a companion animal. Rather it has to do with people who want something they can't afford when a cheaper option is available to them. Cars, electronics, animals, etc. There is a reason rent-to-own stores are so successful. I don't believe this is a predatory practice. A pet is not one of life's necessity that one cannot live without.

  • Chuck Heston

    I had no idea that leasing pets was even a thing. How stupid.

  • jackson chapman

    PLEASE. Go to your local shelter. There are WONDERFUL dogs there that you can get for a small fee (to cover health costs).

  • Rosetta

    If pet stores can't sell their puppies at the prices they charge, they should lower the prices.

  • 3 Wise Men

    Figures it'd be a democrat. One day they'll want to sit in your living room full time.

  • JuPMod

    Gee, all those homeless cats and dogs in shelters, yet people want a particular *breed* thus they are willing to spend so much money to get one. I understand the attractiveness, yet if people can't afford to buy the pet, they should not bother at all to get it. This pet lending is wrong and should be stop.

  • D. Carol

    "Designer Dogs" should be outlawed, period!

  • 415man

    There are millions of great dogs (and cats) at shelters that are free (or nearly so) who desperately need homes

  • KL

    I guess people will do whatever it takes to get an animal to include going deeper in debt that they cannot afford...........Don't blame the store, blame the idiot who wants the animal badly enough to sell their soul to the finance company or store. Time to take personal responsibility folks. I know this could be something new to many, but time to start adulting......

  • Disqus1451

    I absolutely disagree with this type of practice. It should be illegal. That being said, if you can’t afford the 1k for this puppy, you shouldn’t get the dog. Shots, spay/neutering, food, new toys and bedding, crates, etc... all going to add up to more than that. Food every month, treats, dog sitters or kenneling when out of town, emergency vet visits, medication as needed, and so on. These things add up. If you can’t pay to buy the dog up front, don’t. If that drains your savings, don’t. The first couple years can be very expensive. As the dog ages, even more expensive. My young boy is past the expensive stuff now. My old girl, costing more. She needs more care and is on one medication, although it’s not expensive meds. She is truly in great shape though. Vet says she appears half her age! My dogs are the world to me. I couldn’t bare to think I couldn’t afford the care they need. If you need a payment plan just to buy the dog, please wait and consider all the additional expenses after the initial purchase of your new family member.