I happened to see a story recently about a woman and her family who had purchased a Golden Retriever from a local pet store.
What the woman did not see in the fine print of the paperwork she’d signed was that she wasn’t becoming the “owner” of this dog at all. She was leasing the dog. Yes, leasing — like a car, boat or piece of furniture.
Given the amount of craziness we see on the internet every day, I really hoped this was just one of those “stir up the masses” kind of stories. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It’s all too real. Puppy leasing is a thing.
How It Works
Given the number of animals needing rescue in shelters, it’s tough to imagine why people still turn to pet stores to purchase animals who likely came from hideously inhumane conditions. But they do, and some companies have figured out how to capitalize on it.
“Pet sellers team up with private lending companies that offer the customer a low monthly payment over a fixed period of time, padding the purchase price with large fees and interest,” the ASPCA explains. “These agreements allow a love-struck patron to walk out of the store with a puppy, but end up costing the unwitting buyer many times the animal’s original price. … Many of these financing arrangements are not just high-interest payment plans. They are actually leases, meaning the new family does not legally own the dog. Technically, the leasing company owns the dog for the entire length of the lease, which might last several years.”
In short, a buyer walks into a pet store and falls in love with a puppy, and the pet store convinces the person to purchase the puppy using the convenient financing options available. But if the buyer does not read each line of fine print in the contract they’re signing, they won’t notice that they’re only leasing their dog — and that if the buyer doesn’t fork over the enormous payment at the end of the lease, the financing company can repossess their family pet.
Complaints and Warnings
Wags Lending is such a lender. On the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) website, Wags Lending is listed as an alternate business name to Bristlecone Lending, LLC, which conveniently filed for bankruptcy on April 18, 2017. This isn’t surprising — the BBB itself has published an article warning consumers away from Wags Lending and others like it.
There are a total of 19 complaints listed on the BBB’s website about Wags Lending, most of which involve deceptive practices in leasing pets. Here are 2 such complaints:
Beware Wags Lending for “financing” a pet! Retailers are unclear about contracts and Wags Lending gives you the run around when you have complaints!
We purchased a cane corso puppy from our local pet shop on June 4, 2016. The original cost of the puppy was $2,184.99. The clerk in the store told us they work with Wags Lending as a financing option for purchasing a pet. We felt that would be a good option since we really wanted a purebred cane corso and couldn’t pay that amount up front. We applied for the financing and we were immediately approved. We were misled to believe that we were financing the dog but later realized it was a lease! We literally are renting the dog to own later. We then found out that cane corso breed is not allowed on military installations, after we were assured that they were ok by the pet store, so therefore, as a military family, we already know once we get orders to move there is no way we will be able to keep the dog. On top of that the original cost of the dog was $2,184.99, but at the end of the contract term (which is 24 months) we will have paid $4,152.24! That is nearly double the amount! Then, after paying all that money, we’d still have to pay an additional $370.17 to actually own the dog! I called Wags Lending to ask about this and to inquire about terminating the lease and returning the dog and they said they go by the pet store’s return policy and if the store will not take the dog back we have to find a no kill shelter for him.
Hello, I would like it known that WAGS lending is extremely misleading and after contacting them many times and trying to reason with them, they refuse to admit what they did was wrong and unclear. I went to a pet store and was offered “financing” through WAGS for my puppy. I was informed that as long as I made my payments quickly and paid off the full amount that I spent on the dog that I would be done with the contract. I was not, however, informed that I wasn’t purchasing a dog through financing but leasing a dog, and that the dog would not be mine until I either finished the ridiculous amount of payments that was double the price of the dog or I paid the “buyout,” which was, again, over the amount that the dog was worth. It wasn’t until I read the contract completely and realized that I’d been lied to that I tried to return the dog. I was given the option of returning the dog to the store or giving it up at a shelter and paying the the full amount that the dog was worth. I tried returning the dog to the store (where I’d been lied to and told I was financing the dog not leasing it), and they refused and I was told by WAGS that the store wasn’t an option after all. I’ve tried many times to cancel this lease and return the dog. I’ve already paid 4 months of payments and yet I still owe them more than the dog is worth. They are sneaky and unclear in their advertisement. When I went to return the dog to the store as I was told, and they made me speak with them on the phone to tell me they’d never said to return it that store. I was even told they e-mailed me, and they did no such thing! I can’t believe that a company would even think to lease a living creature! I could go through all the payments and the dog still wouldn’t be mine! That’s ridiculous and not what I was told would be the case!!
Other complaints follow in a similar vein, with consumers repeatedly stating that they were not informed of the terms of the lease or were not even made aware that they were leasing their pets.
But there is some hope. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed a bill, which became law on July 1, outlawing the practice of puppy leasing. This directly affects Bristlecone Lending, which is based in Nevada. Rhode Island was on track to pass a similar bill; however, it did not pass in the Senate.
Here’s a CBS news item highlighting Wags Lending’s shady practices:
Why Leasing Is a Terrible Idea
Beyond the fact that we’re talking about a living creature, family member and beloved friend, there are some other issues that you, as consumers and pet people, need to think about.
- The leasing contracts are repeatedly referred to by consumers as “deceptive,” “vague” and “dishonest.” From repeated complaints, it appears that retailers do not make the effort to explain these contracts fully to their buyers. And Bristlecone Lending — a.k.a. Wags Lending — takes no responsibility. “The company relies on retailers to communicate the terms of its contracts … which sometimes leads to confusion,” Dusty Wunderlich, CEO of Bristlecone Holdings LLC, tells Bloomberg.
- You will pay much more for your pet that you think. Reading through several of the complaints, consumers contend that they were charged close to double and sometimes almost triple the amount of the stated “purchase” price of their pet. The extra charges come from the exorbitant interest rates and fees that are charged to you. To add insult to injury, when the contract is up, you can either pay a final buyout payment or have your pet repossessed.
- As you see in the above complaints, all buyers were told that they could bring their animal to a shelter. The company’s solution is adding these animals to the shelters, creating a larger shelter workload and putting these animals in danger of being euthanized, begging the question: What exactly does Wags Lending, a.k.a. Bristlecone, do with its “repossessed” animals? I shudder to think.
Avoid Being Scammed
Always read through any contract given to you very carefully, whether it’s from a pet store or reputable breeder. Don’t let people pressure you into signing if you’re not clear about any part of a contract. If you aren’t sure and you aren’t getting the answers you need, walk away. Pet store retailers and puppy mill breeders have 1 goal: getting your money.
The ultimate way to avoid being scammed? Stop buying from pet stores. Not only do many of these animals come from puppy mills, but there are tons of pets (including purebreds) in local shelters who would love to go home and be your perfect pet.