Saturday, March 26, 2016

Florida's Pet Lemon Laws

Last July I took over the presidency of my German Shepherd Dog Club. It's more challenging than I had imagined. One of the things I try to do to increase attendance is have something fun and educational at every meeting. I want to give people a reason to come out on the second Tuesday of the month. If someone can get everything by reading the minutes in the newsletter, then why bother coming out, right?

I've learned that guest speakers are always a big draw. I've also learned that they're also harder to get than you'd think! We tried to get a holistic vet to come speak at a meeting for three months and they either bailed out last minute or didn't bother to return calls. So I had to come up with something last minute. (NOTE: I don't like last minute changes!) After a small tantrum I put on my animal control officer hat, updated an old blog post and did a presentation on Florida's Pet Lemon Laws. It turned out to be really nice (surprise!) so I thought I'd share with my online friends.

Florida has one of the better Pet Lemon Laws in the U.S. However, it Doesn't protect you if you don't know about it. You can (and should) the read the exact verbiage of Florida State Statute 828.29 but I'll point out the basics here.


The ordinance specifies a minimum age

State ordinance says that no one may transport into the state, or sell from within the state, any cat or dog less than 8 weeks old.

TIP: If someone is offering to sell you a 6 week old puppy – it’s illegal! Don’t take it.

We all agree that babies are cute. However, it's important for puppies and kittens to stay with their mothers until at least 8 weeks for health and developmental reasons.


Health certificates are required in most cases

State ordinance specifies that all animals sold must have a certificate of veterinary inspection signed a licensed veterinarian within 30 days of the sale. Among other things, the certificate verifies that all vaccines have been administered and the veterinarian warrants that to the best of his/her knowledge the animal has no sign of contagious or infectious diseases and has no evidence or internal or external parasites.

Required vaccines and tests for dogs are: canine distemper, leptospirosis, bordetella, parainfluenza, hepatitis, canine parvovirus, rabies (if over 3 months), roundworms, and hookworms.

TIP: If someone is offering to sell you a puppy or kitten, ask for the health certificate. It’s required! If there isn't one, look elsewhere.

It's important that you know your local ordinances as well. Local ordinances can be stricter than State ordinances. This is the case with people who live in Jacksonville (my city). Jacksonville ordinances state that "The owner of any cat or dog that is sold or exchanged for valuable consideration between private parties or is required to provide" a health certificate "at the time they are offered . . . These certificates must be presented to any animal control officer upon demand for a review."

It also states that "All unsterilized dogs and cats that are given away or exchanged at an arm's length transaction must also have current" health certificates.


New owners have responsibilities

Buyers have 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) to have their new pets examined by a veterinarian.

TIP: Line-up a veterinarian before you bring home your pet. As soon as you get it home, take it to the vet! Why? Because you may have legal recourses should something go wrong.


Buyers have legal recourses

If within 14 days of the sale of the animal a licensed veterinarian of the buyer's choosing certifies that at the time of sale the animal:
  1. Was unfit for purchase due to illness or disease,
  2. Had the presence of symptoms of a contagious or infectious disease, or
  3. Had the presence of internal or external parasites (excluding fleas and ticks).
OR

If within one year following the sale of the animal the veterinarian certifies the animal:
  1. To be unfit due to a congenital or hereditary disorder that adversely affects the health of the animal, or
  2. The breed, sex, or health of the animal is found to have been misrepresented to the consumer.
The buyer may:
  • Return the animal for a full refund of sales price (including sales tax) plus reimbursement for veterinary fees to examine and certify the cat or dog as unfit, and the cost of emergency services to relieve suffering. (The statue says reasonable costs, but doesn't specify what is reasonable.)
  • Exchange the animal for a dog or cat of equal value. The consumer can also have certain veterinary costs reimbursed including examination and unfit certification fees as well as the cost of emergency services to relieve suffering (limited to a maximum equal to the cost of the cat or dog).
  • Keep the animal and have vet costs reimbursed for treatment to attempt to cure the animal (up to the original purchase price of the animal).

TIP: Remember, you're out of luck if you don't have a health certificate and/or failed to take the animals to the vet right after purchase.


There are conditions and restrictions
  • Unless specified in local ordinance (i.e. Jacksonville), the health certificate requirements don't apply to “free to a good home” animals, so caveat emptor!
  • An animal may not be declared unfit "on account of an injury sustained or illness contracted after the consumer takes possession of the animal."
  • If a veterinarian deems the animal unfit, the buyer must notify the seller within two days of the veterinary determination, and then written documentation stating the animal is unfit for sale must be provided to the seller within three business days.
  • The seller can require the buyer to take the animal to a veterinarian of the seller's choice for a second opinion. (Seller pays for the examination.)
  • The seller can specify in writing the presence of specific congenital or hereditary disorders. In that case the buyer has no right to a refund or exchange for those specific conditions.
  • County and City operated animal control agencies, as well as registered nonprofit humane organizations, are exempt from these provisions.

Drawbacks 

The ordinance can be difficult to enforce. It's easier for local animal control agencies when a municipal ordinance piggybacks the State ordinance, specifying "if [blank] occurs, then the penalties are . . ."
Unresolved disputes between buyers and sellers are settled in civil court (AKA small claims court). Civil court is not criminal court and can be slow and frustrating.

How to protect yourself
  • Know the State and local ordinances
  • Demand a health certificate
  • Take your new pet to a veterinarian right away
  • Read your contract -- whether you're getting your new pet from a breeder, shelter, rescue or pet store

TIP: A good breeder will have these provisions written into your contract. (Mine did!) If they're not in your contract, ask to have them added -- though you're protected under the law whether the provisions are in the contract or not.


I hope you feel a little more informed. If you don't live in Florida, it would behoove you to check out your own state and local ordinances to see what kind of protections are available to you. You never know when you might need them. -- K