Don't Ever Purchase Your Pet on a Payment Plan — Here's Why

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pet financing

Story at-a-glance -

  • A relatively new feature of the puppies-for-profit industry is lease-to-own pets whose owners often pay exorbitant prices for puppy mill dogs and live under the threat of having their furry family members “repossessed”
  • A handful of states have outlawed pet leasing; all remaining states should follow suit
  • Even after decades of campaigns to raise awareness, too many people continue to acquire pets from retailers who keep puppy mills in business
  • There are many things concerned animal lovers can do to put puppy mills out of business — number one is to stop doing business of any kind with pet stores that sell puppies
  • In addition, don’t buy a pet on impulse or from backyard breeders advertising on the Internet, and consider adopting your next animal companion from a shelter or rescue

You may or may not be aware that in the puppies-for-profit industry, there’s a scheme called “lease-to-own” in which pet store puppies are sold to people on a payment plan. This is apparently quite a racket, designed to benefit sellers (pet stores and puppy mills) and private finance companies, at a very high price to naïve pet parents.

Lease-to-Own Family Members Who Can Be Repossessed. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A family in New York bought their $1,200 Golden Retriever puppy from a pet store in Lynbrook on a lease-to-own arrangement through Wags Lending. The owner made the $145.19 payment on time for 23 months (paying $3,339.37, or $2,139.37 over the purchase price), at which time Wags Lending demanded a final payment of $338.07 or the dog would be “repossessed.”1

Two young women in Brooklyn, NY, roommates, fell in love with a designer “Frenchton” (a French Bulldog, Boston Terrier mix) at a pet store.2 The puppy was selling for $1,350, which was a price they couldn’t afford, so a salesman talked them into “leasing” her, again through Wags Lending.

Once home with their pup, they looked more closely at their contract and realized she wouldn’t actually belong to them until they’d paid around $3,300 for their $1,350 pet over a 2-year period. If the roommates failed to keep up their monthly payments, the store would repossess their furry family member as though she were a car.

Wags Lending claims it doesn’t charge interest, but rather “monthly rental fees,” which “can be more than double what the customer financed if they run their contract to full term.”3 Due undoubtedly to negative press and consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau, Wags Lending appears to be taking down its website page by page, and much of what’s still there can’t be accessed without a login. However, as of this writing their FAQ page is still active.

Fortunately, in 2019, Washington, Indiana and New Jersey joined New York, California and Nevada (where Wags Lending is based) in banning the atrocious practice of pet leasing. It should be banned in every state.

Why No One Should Support Puppy Profiteers

Sadly, there are still way too many people who don’t understand what they’re really supporting when they either make an impulse puppy purchase at their local mall, or deliberately go to commercial pet stores in search of a particular purebred or “designer” dog. A dream of mine is to see puppy mills and the pet retailers (both brick and mortar stores as well as online sellers) that buy from them go out of business due to lack of customers.

The majority of puppy mills that supply commercial puppy sellers are filthy operations in which animals are subjected to cruel treatment and inhumane living conditions. They exist primarily to put money in the pockets of mill operators and pet store owners. According to Best Friends Animal Society:

“A puppy mill is a high-volume commercial dog-breeding operation in which profit and maximum production take priority over the health and welfare of the animals. Puppies bred in these factory-like settings are regarded as nothing more than a cash crop commodity, and despite the poor conditions in which the breeder dogs are forced to live, puppy mills are still legal in every state.”4

According to recent estimates, there are approximately 10,000 puppy mills in the U.S., both licensed and unlicensed, with the majority located in the midwest. These mills produce an estimated 4 million puppies per year, which is about the number of dogs killed in U.S. shelters each year.5

If you’re wondering why mill operators continue to manufacture puppies when so many dogs who already exist are being destroyed every day because there’s no one to adopt them, the answer is simple: profit. Retailers are the big winners, because they buy puppies at a low cost from the mills, and then resell them at a high markup.

5 Ways You Can Help Put Puppy Mills Out of Business

1. Don’t buy a puppy from a pet store, since most receive their “inventory” from puppy mills, and don’t purchase a puppy online from an Internet seller without being able to arrange a visit to the seller’s home to evaluate the sire, dam, medical records and genetic testing results.

Remember, you don’t “rescue” a puppy from a pet store; you perpetuate the breeding cycle. When people stop doing business with puppy retailers, puppy mills will go out of business. Also avoid buying your pet supplies from businesses that sell puppies. As the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) makes clear:

“Consumer action is a critical element in the fight against puppy mills. Convincing consumers not to shop for anything — including puppies and supplies — at stores that sell puppies is the most effective way to stop the demand for puppy mill dogs.”6

puppy mill pet shop life cycle

2. Don’t ever make an impulse purchase of a pet. Taking on the responsibility of caring for a dependent creature isn’t something you should do on a whim. It’s a decision that requires careful thought, research, planning, and preparation.

When it comes to those adorable puppies being sold at your local mall, or on Craigslist, or out of the back of a truck in the grocery store parking lot, as cute as they are, and as much as you may think they need you, just say no. Don’t help puppy mill and unethical backyard breeders stay in business.

3. If you have your heart set on purchasing a purebred pup, try to buy from a local, reputable breeder. Make sure to check his or her background and references. Review the sales contract closely.

A reputable breeder will want to meet and interview anyone interested in buying a puppy, as well as be proud to show you the parents, their living environment and their medical records, including genetic testing results. That's why you won't find responsible breeders selling to pet stores.

I met a breeder not long ago who intentionally creates “designer dogs” for people with allergies. She meticulously screens both parents for all potential breed flaws, then creates “fashion mutts” she sells to a long list of buyers who are looking for “healthy hybrids,” as she calls them.

Although the topic of designer dogs is very controversial, I applaud this woman for testing for all known genetic flaws, something many breeders still refuse to do. She also welcomes visits to her home, believes in early puppy socialization, weans the puppies onto human-grade food, has the entire litter veterinary checked prior to going to their new homes, and insists dogs be returned to her if for some reason an owner cannot keep a puppy.

Always visit a breeder's facility in person. You want to see for yourself the conditions in which your puppy was born and raised. I would also insist on meeting the parents (the mother dog, at a minimum). If the breeder won’t show you the living conditions in a separate barn, building or part of the house, be suspicious. Additional resources:

4. Take action against puppy mills by supporting and recommending legislation that regulates the breeding and selling of animals in your city, county, or state. Volunteer your time or talents, or donate to organizations that act as watchdogs over breeders, including the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Animal Defense Fund.

Write to your state and federal legislators to share your concerns about the reality of puppy mills. Ask them to enact legislation that ensures dogs are bred and raised in healthy environments.

Report unethical or abusive breeders or puppy mill operators in your area to your local animal law enforcement agency and follow up to see what action has been taken.

5. Adopt your next puppy or dog from a local animal shelter or rescue organization. There are millions of wonderful, deserving pets waiting for homes in the U.S. You’ll feel good about your decision, and you may very well save a life.