Commissioner's Blog: Puppy purchase problems
With Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard
Complaints from puppy purchasers are common and have been for a number of years. Our WA ScamNet area deals with frauds where animals are not supplied and likely don’t exist. But many disputes are with real breeders or pet stores regarding the health of puppies or claims relating to the breed.
In the 2016/17 financial year we received more than 30 complaints about breeders or pet shops. The majority of issues were medical and involved disputes around the associated vet bills and alleged non-disclosure of the problems at the time of purchase.
Pet shops or businesses that sell animals must comply with the Australian Consumer Law and this means buyers get an automatic guarantee that the ‘goods’ – in this case an animal – will be fault-free (no defects or illnesses) and match the description given, for example the advertised breed.
If you are told a pup has been vaccinated and health checked and you get it home to find it’s sick, or you bought a small breed of dog but it grows really quickly and you realise it’s a much bigger breed, these are the types of scenarios where you may be entitled to redress. Go back to the seller at your earliest opportunity to give the business a chance to provide a remedy.
Some health issues, such as parvovirus or hip dysplasia, may be considered ‘major faults’ under consumer law, which means the buyer is entitled to choose between a refund, replacement or repair from the pet shop or breeder business. However, there are likely to be strong emotional attachments and a puppy is often considered part of the family. The idea of returning a “fur baby” for an exchange or money back will not be an option in these circumstances. Another thing that can make it hard to resolve disputes is when pet shop or breeder argues the animal became sick after the seller took it home. Proving when certain illnesses were contracted can be difficult.
It’s vital to choose a seller wisely; ideally a business with a physical address and ABN. Search the name online for positive or negative information, including online reviews or public warnings. Consider dog refuge home adoption options, such as SAFE (safeperth.com.au), as well as the RSPCA (rspca.org.au) – they will list puppies on their sites as they become available. If you want a particular type of dog you should find a registered breeder by searching the Canine Association of Western Australia site www.dogswest.com.au. In the Eastern States there are similar sites, such as www.dogsnsw.org.au and www.dogsvictoria.org.au.
Extra tips to protect yourself:
- Research the type of puppy you want and any common issues with that breed. Know what vaccines and checks it needs.
- Best practice is to physically inspect the puppy to find out about its temperament and how you interact with it before you agree to buy and pay.
- See the parents where possible.
- Get vaccination certificates and proof of vet examinations with your receipt and papers.
- If you’re in a dispute with a business that sells pets and cannot resolve it email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if Consumer Protection can help.
Remember, consumer law may not apply to private sales between individuals. Paying by credit card or Paypal means you can ask for a transaction reversal if you don’t get what you paid for.
Beware scammers use newspapers, sites like Gumtree, and Facebook pages to pose as puppy sellers over East and claim you need to pay fees to have the animal transported. If you have doubts about an online transaction, call WA ScamNet on 1300 30 40 54 before sending money.
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