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Miami-Dade Aims to Stop Weird, Predatory "Pet Leasing" Businesses

Let's say you buy a dog, bring him home, give him a name, and make him part of the family — all while making monthly payments for your new furry friend. And let's say one month, you just can’t make the payment. All of a sudden, the seller shows up at your door, wrenches the pup from your grip, and goes off to sell Fido to another unsuspecting family.

Pet leasing is the latest problem to hit would-be pet owners in Miami and across the country. Certain unscrupulous pet sellers lock buyers into contracts with monthly financing plans while hiding the fact that they can repossess the pet if the buyer misses a payment. Many people are unaware they are actually entering into a lease for their new pets and end up heartbroken when, after months of bonding, their new dog or cat is taken away.

To stop that practice, Miami-Dade Commissioners Daniella Levine Cava and Barbara Jordan have coauthored an ordinance that would outlaw pet-leasing practices locally. The item goes up for a vote at the county's Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Committee today at 2 p.m.

"This is a heartbreaking scam that takes advantage of people's emotional connections to their pets," Levine Cava tells New Times.

The bill would amend the county code to make it illegal to lease a dog or cat, and any lease contract for those animals made after the ordinance becomes effective would be null and void. It also levies a $500 fine per violation for anyone found leasing dogs or cats.

Levine Cava says the bill only names dogs and cats because those are the animals most commonly traded in these lease agreements. Exotic pets are regulated by the state.

The ordinance comes in response to a similar bill drafted by state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat representing Kendall and South Dade, in November 2018. Taddeo says she was "flabbergasted" when she heard from her constituents that people were leasing pets and repossessing them, and she made the bill one of her priorities when the legislative session started last year. But Senate Republicans, who have majority power in the Legislature, had other plans, according to Taddeo.

"They had so many other bad priorities that they didn't even put my bill on the agenda, so it died in [the] Judiciary [Committee] in May. But rest assured, I'll be bringing it back up as-is later this year," she says.

Meanwhile, since the state legislation didn't go through, Levine Cava is pushing it at the county level to make sure Miami-Dade residents don't fall prey to this scam. Levine Cava says she has collaborated with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to draft the ordinance and has received support from animal advocacy groups.

Miami is the latest governing body to bring up legislation to prohibit pet leasing, following Nevada and California in 2017 and the State of New York in 2018. This also comes at a time when "puppy mills" and other abusive commercial pet-selling practices are still being scrutinized and cracked down upon throughout Florida.

Laney Silver, the director for an animal advocacy group in Miami called Community Pet Rescue, says that as long as people continue to buy purebred animals from puppy mills and the like, the buyers will continue to be abused by unfair practices.

"People are most vulnerable when they try to buy purebreds rather than adopt mutts," Silver says. "Even buying from pet stores is a scam." 

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