ANNAPOLIS - A new bill would give Maryland puppy purchasers more leverage against pet stores if they are sold a sickly pup.
Delegate Nic Kipke, the bill's sponsor, had a bad experience when his own dog came home with an infection fresh from the pet store that cost him $3000.
Kipke, an Anne Arundel Republican, wants to hold retailers responsible for knowingly selling sickly pets, or pets that came from puppy mills.
"There's no liability for a pet store when they sell a sick animal," Kipke told the House Economic Matters Committee Tuesday.
If HB 131 passes, pet owners will be able to file civil suit against pet retailers for up to two times their pet's retail value for medical expenses if their dog gets sick within 14 days of purchase.
The bill would also require pet stores to conspicuously post pets' ages and where they came from on their cages, as well as keep the pets' health history for one year after date of sale.
In turn, pet buyers will be required to take their new pet to the vet within seven days of purchase if they expect any form of compensation for their pet's illness.
Pet store owner Anita Bobetich of Pet Cottage in Millersville likes the bill, but thinks it still has a few kinks to be worked out.
"I have always felt that the people who purchase my puppies should be protected," she said.
She already offers to reimburse her customers for the pet's full retail value in medical bills if she sells it to them sick from her store, but she thinks paying two times a puppy's value is excessive. She also has some privacy issues concerning disclosing where her puppies come from to her customers.
"I don't think posting [their information] for the whole public to walk in and out and see is the right way to do it," she said.
She buys some of her puppies from friends in other states and worries about posting their information in her store for the public to see.
Fellow pet store owner Sue-Anne Slonin agrees. She worries for the safety of her pet dealers because posting their information might encourage animal rights activists to target them with violence.
The bill would also discourage pet store owners from selling pets that come from puppy mills because they often have associated mental and physical health issues.
Puppy mills are large puppy breeding operations that distribute to pet stores around the country. They are blamed for poor conditions of animals, including cramped cages, lice, premature breeding of animals and rampant infections, leading to health problems down the line. Expenses, more often than not, fall on the new puppy owner.
"Good pet stores do not deal with puppy mills, " Bobetich said. "Those bad stores hurt my business as well."
Ruth Hanessian, owner of Animal Exchange in Rockville, doesn't think the protections for consumers are necessary.
"There is not a pet store I know of that doesn't have a veterinarian for when there are problems in the store." She thinks that in itself should be enough to protect consumers from buying sickly pets. Her store does not sell any puppies.
Rescue animals will be exempt from this bill under the understanding that they are being adopted as they are, in whatever condition they come in.