Last weekend, Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation making Illinois the 21st state to have a "puppy lemon law." The original bill was sparked, in part, by a distemper outbreak that resulted in the deaths of several puppies in at least two Chicago area pet stores last year.
Supporters hope that the law will encourage pet stores to maintain a higher standard of health and protect people who inadvertently buy sick animals. A secondary goal is to make selling puppy mill pets a less desirable business model, encouraging stores to stop selling animals.
Illinois' law, which takes effect January 1st, will allow people to receive reimbursement for veterinary costs up to 21 days after purchase if the animal was sick at the time of sale and one year after purchase if a genetic condition is discovered. If a pet dies within 21 days, the store must provide a full refund of the purchase price.
The law also requires pet stores to report disease outbreaks to the state Department of Agriculture and inform customers who purchased a dog or cat within two weeks of the outbreak.
I think Illinois' new law, and other states' "puppy lemon laws" are a step in the right direction, however, the penalties are too limited to force pet stores or puppy mills to care about the health of their animals.
Most states only cover veterinary costs up to the price of the pet (typically under $3,000, and we all know vet care can easily exceed that number). It's also common to allow stores to replace a sick animal with a healthy one. This doesn't make a lot of sense since no one wants to return a pet that they've already become attached to and no one would want to get another pet from a store with sick animals. This just highlights the struggle in dealing with stores that view animals as merchandise.
I was happy to see Illinois' one year policy on genetic conditions. They are the only state with such a provision. Since many puppy mill dogs end up with genetic illnesses (though many develop after one year of age), I hope more states will follow suit.