ORLANDO, Fla. -- If you’re in the market for a new dog, especially a purebred or hard-to-find breed, there’s a new option from a company that wants to help make an expensive pup more affordable.
But buyer beware on that company, Wags Lending, for in the end, you’re not really a buyer.
Wags Lending is in the dog business, fronting the money for a new pet. But its not in the form of a loan; its in the form of a lease.
“Leasing a dog? Yes!," the company boasts in an online video. "A lease is simply an alternative financing tool for customers to be able to take home the pooch of their dream."
Wags Lending is one of a growing number of services under parent company Bristlecone that’s capitalizing on the trend of leasing over buying.
It leases anything from furniture to wedding dresses, auto repairs and even hearing aids.
Bristlecone markets to sub-prime customers: people with a credit score below 720.
The company suggests leasing is better for many customers, lowering monthly payments and providing an opportunity to build up your credit.
But is it the right thing to do for a dog?
“I think what they’re doing is appalling," said attorney Peggy Hoyt, who specializes in animal law.
"In my world, animals are family. And to lease a family member just doesn’t make sense to me. You wouldn’t lease a baby, you wouldn’t lease a husband. You wouldn’t lease another family member and then find out at the end of that lease that you still had to purchase your family member," Hoyt said.
That’s right -- when your lease is over with Wags Lending, you still don’t own the dog. To get full custody, customers have to pay a purchase fee or ownership reverts back to Wags.
"Because it’s what’s called a closed-end lease, it isn’t subject to the usury laws that put limitations on what can be charged in terms of an interest rate," Hoyt said.
Wags Lending says it doesn’t charge interest rates -- instead your payments are individually calculated based on rental fees and depreciation.
So yes, your dog loses value as it gets older. And in the long run, leasing a dog through Wags Lending will cost you more. A lot more.
Look at the example from Wags Lending's website: A lease on a $1,000 dog can be paid off in 24 months at $92.26 a month. Total payments: $2,214.24, more than twice the price of the animal.
"People, they walk into these establishments, they become emotionally involved with this cute little puppy face. And then they find out that it’s $800 or $1,500, or $2,500,” Hoyt said.
According to Wags' website, "certain vet expenses" will be reimbursed to customers who "should a puppy be unfit for sale due to a covered illness or congenital defect."
According to dozens of complaints found online, pet stores aren't explaining that this lease is different from credit financing.
"We were misled to believe that we were financing the dog but later realized it was a lease! We literally are renting the dog to own later," one person wrote to the Better Business Bureau.
"I had no idea about the exorbitant amount of interest I was going to be charged," another person wrote.
"I was not however informed that I wasn't purchasing a dog through financing but leasing a dog and that the dog would not be mine until I either finished the ridiculous amount of payments that was double the price of the dog or I paid the 'buyout,'" a third customer wrote.
"(Customers) feel like, 'Oh can’t leave without taking this baby with me,'" Hoyt said. "Oh here’s a perfect solution (on how to afford it): just pay for your pet over 12 months or 24 months. And they're so excited about getting the pet, they don’t read the fine print."
"I think we should leasing to cars, dresses and other non-living things," added Sherry Silk, CEO of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay, in an email to 10Investigates. "We would much rather people who are interested in a pet visit a shelter and save a homeless dog’s life. We have a 'test drive; program which means you can test the animal in your home for up to two weeks before you adopt.
"If you decide the dog isn’t the right match, you can return the dog to the shelter and you can try a different dog. That way, we have more information on the dog that they brought back (is it house-trained, etc.) and a new dog gets a chance at a home. Shelters are full of animals that need a second chance."
For some people, leasing is a more affordable short-term option for owning the purebread pet of your dreams, while also building positive credit for making regular on-time payments.
But while some people may love this option, the bottom line is you need to understand what you're agreeing to before you sign on the dotted line.
Requests for comment to Wags Lending and Bristlecone went unreturned. But the BBB awarded Bristlecone an “F” rating, and also put out a warning about the company earlier this year.