Call off the dogs: lawmakers hope to put an end to pet repossessions and ‘predatory’ leases

Pet owners have found out they don’t really own their pets after unknowingly agreeing to lease a pet where defaulting on payments could mean losing their best friend.
Pet leases could mean paying for a pet you don't actually own --- and the risk of repossessions are real.
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 4:08 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Owning a pet is a commitment that generally lasts a lifetime but a practice known as ‘pet leasing’ could mean monthly payments for your four-legged friend --- and the risk of having your pet repossessed.

It is a problem that Mecklenburg County State Representative Wesley Harris wants to end. Harris, along with Catawba and Iredell County Representative Mitchell Setzer, introduced a bill titled ‘An Act to End Predatory Pet Leasing’ in the North Carolina General Assembly.

Harris said he first heard about the practice several years ago from a colleague who met a family who thought they were financing their pet.

“[He] came across a situation in Ashe County, when he was knocking on doors and one of the families he was talking to actually came up with taupe, found out the story of they had gone to a pet store … they were financing the pet because they didn’t have the money upfront,” Harris said.

It came as a surprise after the family realized they didn’t finance the pet --- but rented it.

“A while later they realized that they didn’t actually own the pet. What they actually signed was a lease and they didn’t know that until they went back in and actually looked at looked at the fine print of the contract … they had an animal that was a part of their family, that they didn’t actually own,” Harris said.

Just like a car, Harris said some of these agreements could end in repossessions.

“Had something happened and they they weren’t able to make make those payments, that pet would have been used as collateral and they could have they could have taken taking the pet away,” he said.

Pet leasing faces scrutiny from organizations like the American Kennel Club (AKC) and three states have already enacted laws banning it.

“The American Kennel Club supports a ban on predatory pet leasing schemes that victimize potential owners, undermine a lifetime commitment to a pet, and do not confer the important rights and responsibilities associated with legal ownership of a pet,” Sheila Goffe, Vice President of Government Relations for the AKC said.

Harris said pet leasing that poses as financing options end up costing pet owners even more money than expected, and at the end of the lease pet owners can be hit with another surprise.

“It’s like a car at the end of that lease, you still have to pay one more balloon payment, which you end up paying way more than you would have initially paid for the animal in the first place. It’s not only unethical for the animal, but it’s also financially predatory for the family, Harris said.

Overcrowded animal shelters in North Carolina continue to be a problem and Harris hopes this bill, if approved, would help alleviate some of the challenges.

“We have a crisis of, you know, our pounds being over overrun with animals that people don’t want, having this practice is a way to get more animals into families hands, but doing so in such a way deceptive way is really, it’s exacerbating the problem we have of the animals that are available aren’t getting adopted,” he said.

Harris also said the predatory leasing and financing programs can also lead to an increase in puppy mills.

“If pet stores are able to sell more, even if they’re in slightly deceptive manners, they need more animals … They’re going to go to these puppy mills and try to do it … it’s deceptive financially, but also on the supply side where we’re incentivizing puppy mills, which is something that that we’ve really tried to try to stop in recent years,” he said.

The bill doesn’t prohibit all loans or even lease agreements for pets. Harris as well as the AKC agree there are some leases that should still be allowed.

“There are types of leasing arrangements that are not predatory, and AKC does not oppose there. Examples include the leasing of a specially trained service dog by a service dog training agency to an individual with a disability or leasing in a limited manner as part of a responsible purebred breeding program to advance or preserve certain breeds or bloodlines. In this limited context, leases are an important tool used by breeders and enthusiasts in collaborating on future generations of purebred dogs and sanctioned by AKC,” Goffe said.

In Harris’ bill there are several exceptions to the prohibition including:

  1. “An agreement to lease a purebred dog that is recorded with a national purebred 35 dog registry for the sole and express purpose of breeding, pursuant to a written 36 agreement that specifies a term of validity.
  2. An agreement to use a dog or cat in a show, exhibition, or other spectator 2 event, in a motion picture or other audiovisual media, or in another 3 entertainment such as racing events, field trials, or rodeos.
  3. An agreement relating to the training or use of a service dog, as defined by the 5 Americans with Disabilities Act, or a dog that is a service animal as defined 6 in G.S. 20-187.4(b).
  4. An agreement relating to the training or use of a security dog, police or other 8 law enforcement dog, or military working dog used by a political subdivision 9 of North Carolina or by a business entity. For purposes of this subdivision, 10 “business entity” shall have the meaning set forth in G.S. 55-1-40.”

Harris introduced similar bills in past legislative sessions that did not pass in committees but he is hopeful this year the bill will move forward.

“We’re optimistic we can we can hopefully get it get it moving this year and get a little bit of traction on it,” he said.