Illinois legislators consider puppy 'lemon law'

2013-03-18T00:00:00Z Illinois legislators consider puppy 'lemon law'L.E. Hlavach Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
March 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Illinoisans who buy a dog or cat that turns out to be seriously ill would have a new legal remedy under a proposal being considered by state legislators.

State Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge, is fine-tuning a proposal commonly called a "puppy lemon law."

At least 20 states have such laws, which generally outline legal remedies new pet owners have when they discover the animal they just bought was already seriously ill at the time of purchase.

The laws also typically require that sellers disclose illnesses to the buyers and to state animal health agencies.

Kotowski introduced his proposal but is amending some of its language to accommodate comments from some interest groups, including the Humane Society of the United States.

Last Wednesday, Humane Society spokesman Dale Bartlett flew from Washington D.C. to testify in favor of the proposal.

The proposal would apply to anyone who sells dogs or cats to the public, excluding animal shelters, animal control facilities, fostering homes or veterinary clinics.

"Sellers" subject to the proposed requirements would include more than just pet store owners, which Bartlett called an important change in current law.

"Some of the worst puppy millers in the country that are notorious for poor conditions are giving up their (federal) licenses, required if they sell to pet stores, and just selling online to avoid federal scrutiny," Bartlett said.

To make a claim under the proposal, a new pet owner must present a written statement from a veterinarian that says the animal, at the time it was purchased, suffered from an undisclosed illness or condition that "adversely affects" the animal's health.

New pet owners with a sick animal would have to act within 21 days after the date of sale – or within a year of sale for a claim based on a congenital or hereditary condition.

If a claim is successfully made, the proposal outlines three remedies. The owner can return the animal for a full refund, exchange the animal for another of comparable value, or keep the animal and be reimbursed for reasonable veterinary fees, not to exceed two times the purchase price, which Barlett said "is very reasonable being that the veterinary expenses can be 10 to 11 times the cost of the animal."

The proposal also would require sellers to alert the Illinois Department of Agriculture if a dog or cat in their shops or kennels became sick with an outbreak of distemper, parvovirus "or any other contagious and potentially life-threatening disease" and alert recent customers if the department issues a quarantine.

"If that first case is disclosed quickly, hopefully we can put a lid on it and make sure people are getting happy, healthy pets," Bartlett said.

Michele Kasten on Wednesday said she also wants pets to be healthy but doubted whether Kotowski's is the best approach.

Kasten came to Wednesday's hearing to oppose the proposal on behalf of the Illinois Federation of Dog Clubs and Owners, but the Senate committee only had time to hear from Bartlett.

Kasten said she both breeds dogs and runs a rescue group for schipperkes, a "small dog with a big brain."

She questioned why the proposal's disclosure requirements excluded animal shelters and rescue groups, which she said typically have a higher risk of contagious disease outbreaks.

She argued that some terms in the proposal – particularly "adversely affects" and "congenital" – are too broad.

She said she also was concerned by proposed requirements that breeders disclose their names and personal addresses.

"I know of no other instance where you purchase something and you have to disclose the home address of the manufacturer," she said.

Kasten said she worried the address information could be misused.

"There is a huge increase in harassment, vandalism and outright theft of dogs and equipment because some of the animal-rights groups have been very effective in convincing the general public that all breeders are bad, and that obviously is not true," Kasten said.

"We breeders do this mainly for a hobby. We all have regular jobs," she said. "We are not multimillion dollar companies."

She said most of the breeders already use written contracts that outline obligations and remedies.

"We provide our own guarantees. We do abundant health testing of the breeding animals," she said, "and for most of us, our puppy buyers become extended family."

The measure is Senate Bill 1639.

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