Reviews | Massachusetts pet rental regulations point to inhumane practice
First, some background: In addition to Massachusetts, seven other states (California, Connecticut, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, and Washington) have adopted bans on pet rentals since 2017. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), another state, Illinois, has broader restrictions on funding pet sales .
That leaves whole swaths of the country where it’s legal to rent Lassie, just like you might rent a car.
The ethical quagmire of rented pets intersects with our hypercapitalist society’s consumer protection shortcomings – meaning that if there’s money to be made, someone will try, and the company just might be legal, even if it means threatening the repo man on Rover with sic.
People typically acquire pet dogs or cats by adopting them from a shelter or rescue group, usually for a nominal fee, or by purchasing them from a pet store or breeder. These latter acquisitions are often puppies or kittens, and with dogs often purebreds or designer pooches, such as doodle dogs. These types of pet purchases can cost thousands of dollars.
Renting pets is a bad idea of buying. The practice was born about ten years ago – a twist on subprime borrowing for people with bad credit and little money who fell so in love with the puppy in the window they weren’t inclined to read the fine print about Spot’s “funding” .
A common issue is consumer consent. According to American Pet Products Association, 9% of dogs and 8% of cats are purchased from pet stores. Some retailers – the number of which is unclear, as there are no official statistics – offer people a “financing” strategy which is not really a high-rate loan but a lease. Many buyers don’t realize they are renting until there is a problem. In other words, these practices are often misleading.
Technically, a pet lease is not much different from a car lease. Under such agreements, borrowers do not become owners until all payments have been made (and a final lump sum payment is typical). If you don’t pay the monthly tab, the property – or the “product”, as some contracts describe the animals – can be repossessed.
These leases are usually not cheap. Because a lease is not a credit agreement, it may not be subject to state laws that cap interest rates. People can end up paying two to three times the original price for the animal over the life of the contract, sometimes more. It’s predatory.
But the basic moral problem is that the animal’s human companion does not have complete control over the animal.
Owning a pet can seem and be complicated. Radical animal rights and protection groups pushed several years ago to replace references such as “owner” of the animal with expressions such as “dog sitters”. It didn’t really catch on, partly because the terminology defied reality. You could call Fifi or Fido a companion, your daughter or sonor even your “favorite childbut according to the law, a domestic cat or dog, no matter how loved, is considered property. Considering that you are a relative or tutor does not alter this fundamental fact.
This is the legal and emotional ground that renting pets exploits.
The ASPCA said this week it was not aware of any cases in which a pet had been seized for non-payment. (Jennie Lintz, director of the ASPCA’s Puppy Mill Initiative, told me in an email, “It’s not clear that these companies really want to try to resell a three-year-old dog. .”) However many Pet owners have gone public with bill collectors threatening to get their beloved pooch back unless they hand over the money.
It is financial exploitation and emotional abuse of people and their pets.
When I contacted Monterey Financial Services LLC, the California-based company that recently settled with Massachusetts, a spokesperson denied wrongdoing and said the company had simply “walked away from the problem to better serve our customers”. He has “never repossessed…or threatened to repossess a pet,” the company added.
The Massachusetts settlement included an agreement to transfer full ownership of the dogs involved to hundreds of state residents. It is a step in the right direction. But no business, in any state, should be able to financially squeeze a pet because of a credit dispute. Not only should other states ban pet rental, but Congress should also restrict the practice.
Yes, dogs and cats are property, but they are also living, breathing creatures. Man’s best friend deserves better.