By Ryan Trowbridge and Audrey Russo | April 28, 2021
(WGGB/WSHM) — The Massachusetts Attorney General reached out to Western Mass News first about new developments in stopping predatory dog leasing in the Bay State.
Companies that offer these dog leasing agreements generally aren’t advertising to temporarily lend someone a pet. In fact, the attorney general said they often target people who can’t afford the one time cost of a pet.
However, the finance charges on these lease agreements can be so high, Maura Healey said people often fall behind on payments after growing attached to the pet and that’s when, she said, the companies threaten to repossess the animal.
That’s exactly what happened to a local woman we spoke to in 2019 and Healey said it is illegal.
“You don’t lease an animal. What’s next? Lease a baby?” said Tammy Harrington back in 2019.
It was almost two years ago that Western Mass News first brought you Harrington’s story. She had signed a lease agreement to pay installments towards the ownership of two Shitzu puppies, but quickly, the costly payments overwhelmed her and she said she was looking at a final sum of more than double the initial price tag.
Harrington surrendered the dogs to a shelter in the hopes of reuniting with them later on, but she still faced daily phone calls from the leasing company.
“You’re responsible for all of the money, regardless of whether you turned the puppies over,” Harrington explained in 2019.
At the time, there was a question of the legality of the dog leasing practice in Massachusetts. Now, the Attorney General of Massachusetts spoke to Western Mass News and said under no uncertain terms, it is illegal to lease a dog in Massachusetts and no companies are allowed to offer those agreements to people hoping to buy a pet, but unable to pay full price right away.
“They often carry, as leases sometimes do, really high finance charges that range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The dog, just like a leased car, could be repossessed,” Healey explained.
Healey said the issue came to a head recently when she settled a lawsuit with two Nevada-based pet leasing companies, different than the one Harrington used. That agreement forces those companies to return all payments made after January 1, 2021 and cancels outstanding balances totaling more than $126,000.
“Ownership should be transferred permanently to the dog owners, to the people who were on the leases,” Healey added.
Despite the laws on the books outlawing pet leasing, the companies still offered them to buyers in Massachusetts. We asked Healey if more definitive language needs to be added to permanently close the doors on these arrangements.
“It’s something definitely to look at. I do think these companies understood that they were breaking the law and were just trying to find a way around it and continue to do these leases until they got caught and I’m glad we caught them,” Healey noted.
We reached back out to Harrington who wasn’t available for an interview, but we did learn that the pet leasing company who offered Harrington her lease is no longer doing new lease agreements anywhere, per a message post on their website.
However, to the companies that are still trying to get new clients, Healey has this to say.
“This is an exploitive and illegal practice here in Massachusetts. It is not allowed and to the extent that somebody engages in that, we will come after you,” Healey said.
The settlement with these companies and the state also ordered them not to start any new agreements in Massachusetts and the companies were ordered to pay a $50,000 fines.
Healey is asking anyone who may have purchased a dog using one of these lease agreements to contact her office for further assistance at (888) 830-6277 or file a complaint online.
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