Deanna Dewberry, NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit
When it comes to buying a pet at a pet store, consumers in North Texas have very little protection. That's why it's important to know your rights before you buy.
There is little to no recourse for consumers in Texas if they buy a dog or cat a pet store that they later discover is sick or has a congenital defect.
Sophie Clingenpeel learned this the hard way. She initially went into PetOrama in Mansfield to buy a kitten. Instead she left with a little brown puppy she named Enzo. She said it was love at first sight, but just days after bringing Enzo home Clingenpeel said he became deathly ill with a contagious disease that attacks a dog’s intestinal tract called parvovirus.
Days later, Clingenpeel said Enzo was so sick a nurse at the veterinary emergency clinic asked if they could administer CPR on Enzo if it became necessary.
“If we had not bought him, he would not have made it,” Clingenpeel said.
NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit first introduced you to PetOrama when we broke the story about consumers who said they bought sick dogs from the store, two of which had to be put to sleep.
Since that story aired, a new manager is now running PetOrama and expects to purchase the store in the next six months. The city’s police chief told NBC 5 the store has been inspected and is compliant with city code, although animal control continues its investigation.
PetOrama’s prior manager did not respond to NBC 5’s questions about Enzo, but in previous conversations she said she insisted she took good care of her animals and her dogs checked by a veterinarian.
But based on that original story, NBC 5 wanted to find out what rights consumers have in these cases.
“There are no regulations of pet stores of any shape, form or fashion at the state level,” said Skip Trimble, a board member with the Texas Humane Legislation Network, a group that advocates for animal rights.
Without statewide rules and regulations, protection is left largely to city ordinances.
No city in North Texas goes as far as Austin, which banned the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores. In Mansfield, the home of PetOrama, animal control can impose fines on pet stores if they don’t keep their animals healthy. In Fort Worth, animal control can inspect pet stores if it has concerns or gets complaints and pet stores are required to provide vet care to suffering animals. Plano mandates pet stores keep animals healthy and isolate sick animals.
That’s why it’s important for consumers to complain to the appropriate city department if a problem arises.
While about 20 states have puppy lemon laws to give consumers some protection if they buy a sick animal, there is no such law in Texas. It’s a law animal advocates would like to see adopted and one that may be supported by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, a trade group representing the pet industry under certain circumstances.
“Lemon laws can be a good thing,” said Mike Canning, the President and CEO of the PIJAC. But Canning said PIJAC would only support a law like that if there was a good balance between consumer and pet store rights. If not, his group would lobby against the legislation.
“Responsible members of the pet industry stand behind their products,” Canning said. He also said that in cases of parvovirus, pet store owners should work with consumers to resolve complaints.
Other than complaining to the right city department, another option consumers have is to sue pet stores.
“The only recourse they have right now in Texas is the deceptive trade practice act,” he said.
It’s been done. Pet owners have reached settlements with pet stores. But suing is expensive. So Trimble said making local lawmakers aware of problems is imperative.
“There’s nothing more important and a better way to get a bill passed then for victims to come forward and tell their lawmakers what happened to them and to let them know that they need their help,” Trimble said.
That’s why Clingenpeel is speaking out. She said she’d like to see more regulations to protect both owner and pet.
With the absence of laws, it’s up to consumers to do their due diligence. Experts offer this advice:
Clingenpeel said she alone is footing the vet bill for little Enzo, the $250 puppy that Clingenpeel said now cost nearly 20 times that amount. But she said he is worth it.
“I had to save him,” she said.