Consumers complained of expensive puppies with illusory health guarantees that became violently ill soon after purchase, one died in a child’s arms
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today he filed a lawsuit against Puppyland and its owners for failing to honor advertised health guarantees and channeling customers into predatory loans with illegal terms restricting truthful reviews. The lawsuit asserts Puppyland misrepresented both the breeding standards of puppies it sold and the health guarantees they offered, while unfairly maneuvering buyers into signing predatory loans with interest rates approaching 200% without adequate time to understand the terms.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, seeks penalties and restitution under the state Consumer Protection Act for Puppyland’s deceptive and unfair advertising and sales practices.
The Attorney General’s Office believes that more than 7,000 individuals purchased puppies from Puppyland’s Washington stores since the company started operations in 2018. Consumers complained to the Attorney General’s Office that the puppies Puppyland sold them often became violently sick soon after purchase. Even worse, some animals died shortly after coming home with their new owners.
“The purchase of a family pet is a significant and meaningful transaction,” Ferguson said. “Businesses that sell puppies and other pets have an obligation to consumers not to deceive them or take advantage of them. We will continue working to ensure Washington families seeking to purchase a household pet are treated fairly.”
Puppyland has one store in Puyallup, and also previously operated a store in Renton. The owners, Kayla and Justin Kerr, formerly owned Puppyworld in Olympia and have Puppyland-branded stores in Georgia, Idaho and Texas.
Puppyland tried to prevent customers from speaking out about their experiences
Puppyland’s standard purchase paperwork included an illegal non-disclosure provision that attempted to prevent consumers from sharing truthful information about their experience. Individuals who signed the paperwork agreed not to “disparage, defame, sully or compromise the goodwill” of Puppyland, or face the threat of legal action.
Further, Puppyland’s purchase agreement stated that it would void its health warranties if a consumer left a negative review on widely used online web sites.
A Washingtonian who bought a Shiba Inu puppy that later died said she wanted to write a negative review but decided not to because she feared Puppyland would sue her, which would add attorney costs onto the financial hardships from her loan and veterinary bills.
Puppyland’s misleading health guarantees
The Attorney General’s lawsuit alleges that Puppyland deceived consumers about the health and breeding of the puppies it sold them. Puppyland advertised industry-best breeding standards and health guarantees for its animals, telling prospective customers that its puppies met rigorous health and breeding standards and that the company stood behind these assurances with a money back guarantee.
However, once a consumer purchased a puppy, these health guarantees turned out to be largely illusory. The fine print in Puppyland’s multi-page sales contract required customers to meet onerous preconditions before Puppyland would cover any veterinary bills and the agreement excluded many common ailments from coverage altogether.
For example, Puppyland widely advertised a 15-day protection that would cover veterinary costs if puppies developed a viral illness like Parvovirus or Distemper in the first fifteen days after going to their new home. To qualify for coverage, however, Puppyland required new owners to have the puppy examined by a veterinarian within three days of purchase and to contact Puppyland immediately after a diagnosis. Failure to do so voided the health guarantee, resulting in the denial of a claim. If individuals asked for an extension of the three-day period, Puppyland’s policy was to deny the request.
The lawsuit asserts that Puppyland knew many Washingtonians would be unable to see a veterinarian within three days of buying a new puppy and that it did not adequately disclose this precondition to customers.
Consumers were not “always covered”
Puppyland misleadingly advertised its health guarantees as providing meaningful coverage for healthcare costs, assuring consumers that “YOU ARE ALWAYS COVERED.” The lawsuit asserts this specific claim was unfair and deceptive and violated the Consumer Protection Act.
Puppyland offered a two-year guarantee for costs if a puppy developed a “life-altering congenital or hereditary condition.” When consumers alerted Puppyland that their puppies had become ill, however, the company was unresponsive, even when puppies developed severe health problems. Many consumers incurred thousands of dollars in veterinary bills before Puppyland would consider covering any costs.
Separately, Puppyland offered a 10-year guarantee and provided a 50% discount on the purchase of another puppy if a puppy died in that time. For some customers, Puppyland offered store credit or a replacement puppy after the death of their dog, but consumers still had to pay off their original loan.
Puppyland’s failure to honor the guarantees they advertised further impacted consumers who were already struggling with the cost of caring for sick animals.
Consumer complaints show the effects of Puppyland’s hollow health guarantees on Washingtonians.
One woman wrote in a complaint that Puppyland sold her a puppy that became sick immediately. She spent thousands of dollars on veterinary care but despite that, the puppy died a week later. She felt Puppyland sales were a “scam.”
Another woman complained to the Better Business Bureau regarding a French Bulldog puppy she purchased in June 2022. On the second day she had the puppy, the puppy began to defecate blood. When she took the puppy to a veterinarian, she learned the puppy had giardia. After treatment, the puppy developed other illnesses for the following two and a half months. When she complained to Puppyland, the business gave her $36. The puppy’s health troubles continued and the woman incurred thousands of dollars in medical expenses.
“I wish we would have never bought from these people,” she wrote. “I am so angry and going to file another claim and I swear I am not paying another cent on this dog until he is healthy. These people need to be shut down.”
During the Attorney General’s Office investigation, an investigator spoke with multiple customers. One woman told the investigator she bought a Shiba Inu puppy as an emotional support animal for her son, which they named Luna. Puppyland set up a $6,500 loan to cover the purchase price.
Two weeks later, Luna began having seizures. A veterinarian prescribed medication and ordered tests to determine what caused the seizures. Puppyland would not cover any of the medical costs. The seizures continued and, before the tests could happen, Luna died in her son’s arms.
“We were devastated by the loss of our puppy,” she told the investigator.
Puppyland deceived buyers into predatory loans
Ferguson’s lawsuit also asserts that Puppyland designed its business to manipulate consumers into signing predatory loans without a meaningful opportunity to review the terms, an unfair practice in violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
Puppyland’s widespread marketing did not disclose puppy prices. Puppyland employees were not allowed to provide any price estimates when consumers contacted them, and Puppyland did not display prices anywhere in their stores.
Once a customer had committed to purchasing a puppy, employees would finally disclose the price, which ranged anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 per dog. Employees were encouraged to pressure the buyer into financing the purchase if they could not afford to pay for the puppy outright. Puppyland’s chosen loan providers charged annual percentage rates as high as 198%.
If someone could not qualify for a loan for the full price on their own, Puppyland would often lock them into two or more loans to cover the costs or urge them to use a family member or friend to apply with them to qualify. Consumers reported Puppyland employees inundated them with so much information in a short period of time that they often did not comprehend the terms of their loans or Puppyland’s purchase agreement until long after the sale was complete. Coupled with these high-pressure sales tactics, the consumer did not see a final loan agreement until after electronically signing the loan documents in rapid succession.
Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts Puppyland designed these practices to pressure individuals into agreeing to predatory loans for Puppyland animals that exponentially increased the consumer’s payment obligations. Indeed, a February 2022 KIRO news story showed that one couple agreed to pay approximately $5,500 for a puppy. They received the in-store financing at a near 129% rate for one loan and another loan at 71%, which brought their total debt for the puppy to more than $10,000.
Puppyland faces thousands of dollars in penalties per violation of the Consumer Protection Act. Further, the Attorney General’s Office anticipates seeking restitution for the many Washingtonians who financed puppies through the company.
Assistant Attorneys General Aaron Fickes, Ashley Gomez and Michael Hall, Senior Investigator/Analyst Renee Shadel, Paralegal Emin Aliiasov and Legal Assistant Elliot Raven are handling the case for the Attorney General’s Office.
House bill will curtail business models like Puppyland’s
Rep. April Berg, D-Mill Creek, introduced a bill to create consumer protections for the sale or adoption of cats or dogs. The bill, HB 1424, models ordinances in Pierce County and Olympia regarding pet stores and will expand them into statewide law. The bill passed the House 92-5 in March and passed 39-9 in the senate on April 5.
The bill will end financing of pet sales and require pet stores to obtain their animals from a U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed breeder or licensed broker. For each dog obtained, the pet stores would have to show that the dog was not separated from its mother prior to the age of eight weeks and that the breeder complied with Washington state’s dog breeding laws.
The bill will require that advertisements for sales include the range of prices for each dog, its age and information regarding the breeder. The bill will also require stores to post this information so it is clearly visible at a store entrance.
If a store violates this law three or more times within a one-year period, it will no longer be able to sell dogs in Washington.
Washington’s Attorney General serves the people and the state of Washington. As the state’s largest law firm, the Attorney General’s Office provides legal representation to every state agency, board, and commission in Washington. Additionally, the Office serves the people directly by enforcing consumer protection, civil rights, and environmental protection laws. The Office also prosecutes elder abuse, Medicaid fraud, and handles sexually violent predator cases in 38 of Washington’s 39 counties. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com
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