Danielle Cittadino couldn’t afford $1,200 for the golden retriever she wanted from Shake A Paw pet store on Long Island.
But she could afford to buy him for monthly payments of $145.19. So she signed what she thought was an installment payment plan. Only it wasn’t — it was a lease.
When she finished making all the payments — on time, she told ABC 7 in New York — the store told her she owed a final payment of $338.07 or Max, now a beloved member of her family, would be repossessed.
”They told me they were gonna take my dog,” Cittadino said.
She’s not the only pet purchaser to run into that situation, which is why the Federal Trade Commission late last year issued a warning about leasing pets.
“This is a new one on me — maybe you, too. Pet leasing: apparently, it’s a thing,” Lisa Lake, an FTC consumer education specialist, wrote on the agency’s website in November.
“And there are many people who paid money not knowing they were actually renting their new pets instead of owning them.”
Cittadino admitted to local media that she didn’t read the contract carefully and didn’t realize she had signed a lease with Wags Lending, a Reno, Nevada-based company that reportedly was one of the first to offer pet leasing plans.
The company’s website calls its services “an alternative financing option to help you take home that pet that you love TODAY.”
Reports of whether the company is still doing business in every state are conflicting; the Wall Street Journal couldn’t say definitely last month whether Wags Lending is still operating.
“I had no idea it was a lease,” Cittadino told News 12 Long Island. “They tell me — I hear financing — it’s a loan.”
Natalie Sullivan, a Brooklyn woman who bought a designer Frenchton puppy at a New York pet store, told USA Today in May that the “salesman talked us into this predatory payment plan.”
Like Cittadino, she couldn’t afford the $1,350 cost of the French bulldog-Boston terrier mix she wanted, but payments were doable.
She told USA Today she didn’t read the contract closely until she got home and realized that she’d be paying monthly payments that added up to nearly $3,000, plus a balloon payment at the end of $275.
If she failed to pay? The dog would be repossessed, the contract reportedly said.
Along with the feds, animal-rights groups and state lawmakers have also warned consumers about using pet leasing arrangements. According to CBS News, California and Nevada banned pet leasing last year and New York is expected to follow suit this year.
“This is simply a business that’s built on deception and cruelty,” Jennie Lintz of the ASPCA told CBS News in July.
She accused pet stores of purposefully “dangling” low payments in front of customers who want expensive pets.
“Just like someone who goes to a car dealership, people get distracted thinking about the monthly payment and might no longer negotiate that sticker price,” Lintz said. “Once they start adding in the fees, all of a sudden, the dog that you could’ve bought for $1,500 is $5,000.
“Even people whose pets have died during the course of the lease are continued to be expected to pay.”
Lake at the FTC said customers could be “unintentionally” signing up “to make costly, extended lease-to-own payments that add up to about twice the list price of the pet.
“As you’re paying over what could be years, the company still owns your pet. When the lease is up, you may have to pay additional costs to actually own it.
“If by some tragedy the animal gets lost, stolen or killed, you could still be on the hook for the payments. You might not get a refund — or might still have to make more payments to get out of the contract. And, if you miss a payment, the company has the right to take away your pet — which can be stressful for you, your family and your pet.”
She cautioned consumers to know what they’re actually paying before they sign a contract. The retailer could be breaking the law if it doesn’t make the terms of the agreement clear or misrepresents them, she warned.
After she made her last payment, Courtney Peterman told CBS News she was shocked when the bank told her she owed almost 20 more payments on the $3,000 “loan” she thought she had signed to buy two dogs at a Connecticut pet store in 2015. She said she signed the contract electronically and didn’t read it carefully until later.
“I was appalled,” she told CBS. “When I asked how that was possible when it was only a $3,000 loan, AND I was told it wasn’t a loan at that point; it was a lease.
“I was like, OK, what bills am I not going to pay now so I can make sure no one’s going to come to my door and take my dogs away?”
This is a case of buyer beware, consumer rights attorney Anthony Ballato told News 12 Long Island.
“It really sounds like a scare tactic that they’re phrasing it as a lease and saying they have a right of repossession if you don’t make full and timely payments,” Ballato said.
In the end, the pet store where Cittadino bought her golden retriever told ABC 7 that it would make the final payment to the leasing company.
She gets to keep Max.
“They have their money, so there’s no reason to take my dog,” she told ABC 7.