Reports of dodgy WA puppy breeders prompt warning from Consumer Protection

Consumer Protection WA has urged potential puppy owners to do their research after they revealed they had received dozens of complaints regarding dodgy puppy breeders and pet shops over the last year. 

The consumer rights body said while complaints from puppy purchases were common, they had received more than 30 complaints last financial year.

Consumer Protection commissioner David Hillyard said the majority of issues were medical and involved disputes around the associated vet bills and alleged non-disclosure of the problems at the time of purchase.

“If you are told a pup has been vaccinated and health checked and you get it home to find it’s sick, or you bought a small breed of dog but it grows really quickly and you realise it’s a much bigger breed, these are the types of scenarios where you may be entitled to redress,” he said.

“Go back to the seller at your earliest opportunity to give the business a chance to provide a remedy.”

There have been recent attempts in WA to tighten and strengthen existing laws surrounding puppy purchases, with the Labor Government promising to crack down on dodgy puppy breeding. 

A significant loophole in WA legislation means breeders are only required to disclose existing health issues at the time of purchase.

They are not required to warn of potential health issues, including genetic diseases or potential hip dysplasia problems.

In one case, one puppy owner told WAtoday she was forced to euthanise her dog after he developed degenerative arthritis at just four-years-of-age.

“He always had a funny but cute swagger of a walk,” she said.

“But at around four, he was diagnosed with severe degenerative arthritis.”

He later also developed osteosarcoma at just seven-years-old, and had his front leg amputated.

After a further five operations ringing in at around $15,000, he was then diagnosed with cancer. He was put down at just eight-years-of-age.

Another purchaser from the same breeder told WAtoday they believed they had not been told the truth regarding potential genetic disorders with their new pup.

“Before we purchased our dog we asked all the right questions about genetics, hip dysplasia, eye scores and did our research.  We were told there had never been an issue in the kennel,” she said.

The family’s dog soon came down with hip dysplasia, and his owners paid over $10,000 in operations, medication and rehabilitation.

“Previous hip dysplasia issues have allegedly been passed off as environmental, dietary, over-exercise and weight issues by this breeder,” she said.

“We were told both parents had 1-1 hip [scores]. We would not have purchased a dog whose parents had high hip scores.”  

After lodging a complaint with the Department of Commerce, the family found they were not alone.

A number of complaints had been lodged against the same breeder for allegedly selling dogs with possible genetic disorders.

She later chose to deregister from a peak breeding body after a number of complaints had been made against her for allegedly selling puppies with “known” health issues.

In WA, it is extremely difficult for the Department to convict or fine these breeders if they are not registered with the peak breeding body, Dogswest.

A breeder can opt for membership – however, the breeder in this instance had rescinded her membership after a number of complaints were made against her due to alleged “faulty” purchases.

Dogswest is only able to bind members to its ethical code. The code covers breeding practices, appropriate medical checks and disclosure processes with possible purchases.

If a member chooses to give up their membership, they are no longer bound by the ethical code.

It also difficult for the RSPCA to take action when it is believed dogs may be being bred with known health difficulties.

“It’s difficult for us to take action in these instances because we would need to prove that the breeders are knowingly breeding animals with genetic faults,” an RSPCA spokesperson said.

If a breeder denies knowledge of genetic faults, the RSPCA and the Department of Commerce are often unable to prosecute.

In a veterinary report obtained by WAtoday, one puppy was found to have gone lame in both her hind limbs by just 10 months old.

“Three days after I picked her up at around 10 weeks of age, she first went lame in her leg,” her owner said.

The report found the dog’s issues could not be fixed with medical management due to other medication she was on for “patchy alopecia”.

“If [name redacted]’s mobility and comfort cannot be maintained with a programme of medical management then salvage surgery – total hip replacement or excision arthroplasty – may become considerations in the future. I generally do not advise this type of surgery in immature patients,” the report stated.

Only in this case was the owner able to receive a refund, after paying thousands of dollars to prove her dog had suffered from a genetic condition. 

In cases such as this, Mr Hillyard said while puppy owners could lodge a complaint with the body it was often difficult to decide on a legal remedy other than a refund. 

“Some health issues, such as parvovirus or hip dysplasia, may be considered ‘major faults’ under consumer law, which means the buyer is entitled to choose between a refund, replacement or repair from the pet shop or breeder business,” he said.

“There are likely to be strong emotional attachments and a puppy is often considered part of the family.

“The idea of returning a “fur baby” for an exchange or money back will not be an option in these circumstances.

“Another thing that can make it hard to resolve disputes is when pet shop or breeder argues the animal became sick after the seller took it home. Proving when certain illnesses were contracted can be difficult.

 “Pet shops or businesses that sell animals must comply with the Australian Consumer Law and this means buyers get an automatic guarantee that the ‘goods’ – in this case an animal – will be fault-free (no defects or illnesses) and match the description given, for example the advertised breed.”

The Australian National Kennel Council is currently developing a health testing database as a reference tool for breeders to check that dogs they are considering in a breeding programme have been health tested and their results.

Consumer Protection WA urges potential owners to:

  • Research the type of puppy you want and any common issues with that breed. Know what vaccines and checks it needs.
  • Best practice is to physically inspect the puppy to find out about its temperament and how you interact with it before you agree to buy and pay.
  • See the parents where possible.
  • Get vaccination certificates and proof of vet examinations with your receipt and papers.
  • If you’re in a dispute with a business that sells pets and cannot resolve it email to see if Consumer Protection can help.

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