I Bought the Wrong Puppy
Now What Do I Do?, continued...


1. Focus On What Exactly You Are Complaining About:
This sounds obvious, but people who are upset and angry often do not focus on exactly what is wrong and exactly what they want done to remedy the situation. It is much easier to get what you want if you can explain clearly what the problem is, and what you want done. Also, you are more likely to get an acceptable solution if you propose something reasonable.

Some obvious possible complaints after buying the wrong puppy are:
a. The puppy was sick at the time of purchase or very shortly thereafter (and, in the worst of cases, has died as a result).
b. The puppy delivered is not the one you thought you were buying, i.e., the puppy is not the same puppy as the one you picked out from the pictures you were shown.
c. The puppy was misrepresented as having been bred by the seller when in fact the seller bought the puppy from someone else for resale.
d. The puppy was misrepresented as having been bred in the U.S., but is fact an imported puppy.
e. The seller promised registration papers, but did not deliver them.
f. The puppy has developed chronic health problems that are not the result of something the buyer did or failed to do, e.g., hip dysplasia, chronic skin problems, lameness, sight problems.

2. Gather the Evidence:
You need to prove your case against the person who sold you the puppy. Gathering all the evidence is the next step. What do you need to gather? Everything that relates to your purchase or to the problem about which you are complaining, especially including the following documentation:

a.  Any letters or emails to or from the seller;
b. Any representations about the quality of the puppies made on the seller’s website and/or advertisements;
c.  Any sales agreements, contracts, written promises, warranties, etc.;
d.  Any registration papers or applications for registration;
e.  Any veterinary invoices or reports;
f. Any correspondence with a registry organization such as the American Kennel Club;
g. Any evidence you can get about other buyers who have had similar problems with puppies from the same seller; and
h. Photographs of the dog that show any problem about which you are complaining.

3.  Organize the Evidence:
Even judges and magistrates do not have the time or inclination to wade through a confusing presentation to figure out the problem for themselves. If you want someone to help, you need to be able to describe CLEARLY and LOGICALLY the nature of your complaint, the evidence that proves your point, and what you want the judge to do for you. You need to clearly communicate the nature of the problem and the relevant facts, including:

a. Your name and your contact information – address, telephone number, e-mail address, etc.; The seller’s name and contact information;
A short but complete explanation of the problem, (here is an example):
I bought a puppy from X on ((date)). The puppy developed diarrhea within 24 hours of arrival. As a result, I incurred $__ in veterinary bills during the following week. The veterinarian said that the puppy suffered from ___ and that the puppy must have contracted the ___ before the puppy was shipped to me.
Next, begin a more detailed, chronological description of the transaction, including references to the evidence you have gathered and attached, such as:
I first contacted the seller after seeing her webpage, a copy of which is attached at Tab 1. I contacted her by e-mail on __ and she responded by e-mail dated ____, in which she said that ((anything important to your case, e.g., ‘We pay particular attention to the health of our puppies.’)). Copies of those emails are attached at Tab 2. The puppy arrived on ____. A copy of the shipping invoice is attached at Tab 3. The puppy became sick one day later. We immediately took her to our veterinarian. She diagnosed the problem as ____. See Tab 4. Each tab refers to a section of your evidence, just like chapters in a report, and the attached numbered tabs make it easier to find each section.. . .
Finally, state what you want done. Do you want to exchange the puppy for another puppy? Do you want to return the puppy and get your money back? Do you want to be reimbursed for veterinary charges you have incurred? Do you want to keep the puppy but to get a portion of the purchase price back because the puppy does not conform to what the seller promised (e.g., the puppy has ongoing medical problems, the seller did not furnish the promised registration papers, etc.)

Organizing the evidence in writing first will give you a tool to work with when you take some or all of the following steps.

4. Complain to the seller:
Something can go wrong even if you buy a puppy from the best of breeders, just as there can be something wrong with a brand new television you may buy from the best of makers. The difference between a responsible seller and an abusive seller is that the responsible seller will be willing to act reasonably to rectify the situation and the abusive seller will not. Be polite and act as though the seller will be willing to help until you learn to the contrary. Calling up the seller and shouting at her in an abusive manner is likely to elicit an angry response from that seller no matter how reasonable that seller ordinarily is.

If you have dealt with a responsible seller, the seller will act reasonably and you need read no further. The responsible seller will work with you to find a solution (e.g., reimbursement for vet bills, money back, a replacement puppy) which you both think is fair. If you have bought the Wrong Puppy from the wrong seller, read on.

5. Do an Internet Search for Other Dissatisfied Buyers:
Knowing about other dissatisfied buyers with similar experiences will make your case more credible when the seller denies everything and blames everything on you. An Internet search for the seller’s name and kennel name may pop up complaints by other buyers. If you are very lucky, another buyer may have even set up a website with information on problems various buyers have had. See, for example, , a website describing problems encountered by buyers from a Tennessee seller named Gina Price, who operated Rebel Ridge Kennels and CSA Bulldogs. (The website, started by one dissatisfied buyer, helped pool the information available to the buyers and undoubtedly helped persuade the Tennessee Attorney General’s office to shut down Gina Price.)

Print out anything you find. Contact the other dissatisfied buyers, if you can, to see if they have any further information that may be helpful.

6. Research the law:
The transaction will probably be governed by the law of the seller’s state. Do an Internet search for something like “puppy lemon laws ((name of State))”. Try to find both the exact wording of the laws AND simplified explanations. Print them out and add them to the evidence package you assembled as set forth in section 2 above. Take them with you if you go to Court and provide copies for the judge because judges often are not familiar with puppy lemon laws. Also, if the seller contacts you after you file suit and before you go to Court, you will need to be able to convince the seller that you know your rights if you are to have any hope of resolving the matter before going to trial.

7. Complain to the animal regulation agency where the seller is located:
Depending on where the seller is located, the local animal control agency may be a municipal animal control, a police department, or most commonly outside large cities will be an SPCA or Humane Society. To locate the animal regulation agency where the seller is located, do an Internet search for “animal control ((name of place)).” Get the name of the agency, the address and telephone number. Phone and ask to speak to someone about your problem. Have a copy of your written outline of the problem in front of you so that you do not forget anything important. Offer to send the complaint in writing, together with all of the supporting documents. Be sure to get the name of the proper person to whom to send the written complaint, and the proper address, since the agency may have more than one location.

Ask whether the agency has had any other complaints about the seller. The agency probably will not give you the names of other buyers for privacy reasons, but tell the agency that you would welcome their passing your contact information to other buyers who have had problems with the same seller.

If the agency has had other complaints about the seller, your complaint – together with the supporting evidence – may be enough to convince the agency to take action against the seller. That action, if you are very lucky, might involve seeking restitution on behalf of cheated buyers.

8. Send us a copy of your evidence package and description of the problems.
Please send us a copy of your evidence package and of your description of the problems. Contact this author, John Hoffman,   particularly if your problems involve an imported puppy. This author may be able to provide you with information on other purchasers from the same seller, and may be able to suggest other remedies you can pursue that may be particular to your situation. Also, having the information will help our efforts to get meaningful regulation of abusive puppy sellers, and particularly abusive puppy importers.

9. File suit in small claims court:
Lawyers are expensive. There is rarely enough money involved in dog-related cases (other than dog-bite cases) to make hiring a lawyer a realistic option. Your only realistic option to try to recover some or all of your money is to file suit in small claims court. Even that is an option only if you have bought your puppy close enough to home to make traveling to the court for the hearing a realistic possibility. (You will almost certainly have to sue in the court for the locality where the seller lives.)

Find out what is the maximum you can recover in the small claims court in the state where you bought the puppy. To do so, do an Internet search for “small claims court” and the name of the state. Next, find out where the court is and its contact information, by doing an internet search for “small claims court” and the name of the locality where the seller lives. If that does not work, do a search for the locality where the seller lives, find a web site for the local government and find some governmental officer you can call to ask about where the applicable small claims court is located and what its telephone number is. Once you have the information as to the proper court, look at its website if you can find one, or else telephone the clerk of the court. Small claims courts are designed to operate without lawyers and the staff is usually very helpful. Look on the website, or ask the clerk, for the procedure for filing a case, how to get the necessary forms, and what must be done to make sure the defendant has a copy of the paperwork and is properly served. You cannot sue someone unless he is properly served, so this detail is very important. When you fill out the forms, one will require you to state the nature of the claim. Do not try to play amateur lawyer. Just state the facts clearly and specifically, such as:

On ___, 2007, I bought a Bulldog puppy from the defendant. She represented that the puppy was in good health. In fact, the puppy became sick within hours after arrival. I have incurred $__ in veterinary bills as a result.
Be clear what you are asking for. In most states, you will be able to recover only your out of pocket losses directly relating to the problem, such as purchase price, shipping costs, vet bills, but not for time missed from work to file the lawsuit, emotional distress, or other such things.

After you serve the seller, the seller may contact you to try to settle the case or otherwise dissuade you from going to court. Settle the case if you get an acceptable offer, but DO NOT dismiss the action until you have received the promised money or other consideration. Otherwise, you will find yourself having to start all over.

Practice what you are going to say before the day of the court hearing. The judge will have many matters to hear. You are unlikely to get more than about 5 minutes to present your case, so be organized and make a list of the important points so that you don’t forget them. The work you did in organizing the evidence should be very helpful. Be sure to bring 3 copies of any relevant documentary evidence. One will be to give to the court, one to give to the seller, and one for you to refer to. Also have any originals of the documents with you to show to the judge if the judge asks for them.

If you win a judgment, you will have to collect it if the seller does not pay it voluntarily (which usually does not happen in these cases). Talk to the court clerk and the sheriff’s office in the courthouse about how to collect. Procedures vary from state to state. Act promptly after you get the judgment. Do NOT sit around waiting for the seller to pay, even if the seller tells you he doesn’t have the money now and promises to pay you in a month or two. If the seller files for bankruptcy, you will not be allowed to collect on the judgment except by filing a claim in the bankruptcy court which will entail more work for you. Furthermore, you will probably then get only pennies on the dollar amount of the judgment, if you get anything at all.

10. Final Word of Advice: After you have finished doing all of the foregoing, take a good hard look at your Wrong Puppy, add up all the time and money that you have put into trying to correct a mistake that never should have happened, and tell yourself that you will never, ever buy another dog without careful thought and a thorough search for a reputable breeder. And don’t blame the Wrong Puppy. He’s a victim too, just like you.