Monday, August 24, 2009

The Defective Dog on the Defective Sofa

Ouch. That's got to hurt.

This Daily Telegraph headline is a direct jab at DFS Crufts (aka "Direct Furnishing Supplies Crufts").

Peter Wedderburn notes that Dog World is saying that the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) report due in October is going to say there is a serious welfare problem associated with the breeding and sale of dogs, and that this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently by the government.

How will it it be addressed?

The answer seems to be through basic consumer protection legislation. An AGPAW spokesperson is quoted as saying that “animal welfare problems cannot be looked at in isolation of protection of consumer rights”.

Fair enough. That doesn't seem like over-reaching.

Which is not to say that I think it will do much good. Quite a number of states have "puppy lemon laws" in the U.S. already, including California, Florida, New York, New Jersery and Pennsylvania. The effect of these laws is to put owners of sick, lame and diseased dogs into a Faustian bargain: turn the dog back over to the breeder to be killed, or else whistle past the misery and either accept a defective dog or pay out of pocket all veterinary bills.

But, as Peter Wedderburn notes, if people can be made to take back a defective car, why not a defective dog?

It’s well-known that animals are categorized in the same way as any other goods as far as “consumer rights” are concerned, but perhaps this concept can be developed in a more clearly defined way. For example, furniture must be “of satisfactory quality, fit for its purpose and as described”. If a defect develops, you are entitled to have it repaired, or if it cannot be repaired, you are entitled to a refund. Why should the same conditions not apply to the purchase of dogs?

If a Labrador develops hip dysplasia, then it is not “fit for its purpose”. If a Sharpei requires surgery to correct inturned eyelids by the age of six months, then it can hardly be described as “satisfactory quality”. And if a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel develops Syringomelia (the most dramatic inherited condition to be highlighted on the Pedigree Dogs Exposed programme), then surely a defect has developed, and you should therefore be entitled to a refund.


K said...

There is only one problem with this analogy - if you have defective merchandise, you must *return* it for a refund. And that is generally the same for most breeders - working, show or otherwise.

Should a breeder be held responsible for a clearly inheritable, debilitating condition (especially one for which there is an accurate, reliable genetic test)? Sure, and you can even put in that the owner has a choice between a refund or vet bills paid. Should a breeder be held responsible for a poorly understood condition, such as hip dysplasia, where "post-puppy" treatment (diet, exercise, etc.) may play a larger role than genetics? That's like holding car manufactures responsible for an owner's poor driving skills.

Easy solution? Buy from a breeder you trust.

Carolyn Horowitz said...

Florida's lemon law is actually a 'fix or replace' option. The seller must either pay vet bills up to the sales price of the dog or replace the dog. Additionally, the seller is liable for any diagnostic costs (i.e., x-rays, etc.) above and beyond that. In Florida, we also have to have a veterinary exam and documented health certificate prior to sale that includes state required vaccines, fecal exam, etc. My vet checks them over stem to stern.

Unfortunately, a fair number of consumers don't know their rights or they buy dogs from someone selling out of a puppy-pen alongside the road which is very common down here. The lemon law doesn't apply to anyone selling fewer than 2 litters or less than 20 dogs.

There are breeders who are deliberately unscrupulous or simply choose to turn a blind eye. The vast majority of problems, however, arise out of ignorance IMO. The dog fancy functions far too much on 'tribal knowledge' and not nearly enough on actual science.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard breeders say, "If it's not on the paper, it doesn't matter" making reference to a 4 generation pedigree. The concept of background inbreeding, for example, is completely lost on them.

Fortunately, there are those of us who are willing to question the 'tribal knowledge' particularly where it runs contrary to the basic tenets of physiology and genetics we would generally expect our 13 year old's to grasp these days.