Puppy heartbreak: State's 'lemon' law may not be in contracts

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
JOLIET, Ill. (WLS) -- The I-Team found that "puppy lemon laws" may not always protect families who pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars for puppies.

The Arocho family spent more than $3,000 on a puppy that died just days after they brought it home. The heartbreak was made worse by nagging questions as to how the dog died. When they couldn't get answers, they turned to the I-Team.

"And now she has to deal with the death of her dog," Priscilla Arocho said.

An empty cage and pictures are all Priscilla and her daughter have to remember Gracie. They bought the 10-week-old "maltichon" from Furry Babies in Joliet. Gracie died less than four days later.

"We were supposed to take her, that afternoon, to the vet to get her first puppy check. And she died early that morning," Priscilla said.

The Arocho family said the store would only offer them another puppy as dictated by the contract, not a refund of the $3,200 they spent on the puppy.

Jason Knowles: "So you're saying the puppy was extremely happy at the time of sale?"
Ana Soskic, Furry Babies: "Yes, she was."

Furry Babies Joliet store owner Ana Soskick agreed to the interview with the I-Team as her lawyer watched and their own camera recorded us. Soskic said the family waited too long to take Gracie to the vet, although the dog died before the fourth day checkup required by the warranty rules.

"The first vet appointment is between that time frame of four days. So they could have gone Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but they chose to wait until the last day. If your puppy wasn't eating, you would take it in right away as well, correct?" Soskic asked.

The family said they were feeding Gracie some food and giving her a NutriStat supplement which Furry Babies supplied to them. A handout directs consumers to feed NutriStat, along with food, to small puppies.

The store's contracted vet said the dog may have died from hypoglycemia and prolonged anorexia, which isn't under covered under the warranty. An excerpt from the death report notes, "Explained that without full sampling, a diagnosis and cause of death might not be identified. Anna OK with this, only wants to submit lung and liver."

"That was an incomplete necropsy," said Dr. Adam Stern, University of Illinois.

Stern is a professor at the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at University of Illinois. He is critical of how the necropsy was performed.

"You need to look at everything. I mean, it's pretty simple: if you don't look, you're not going to find it," he said.

Jason Knowles: "The vet report said you only wanted the liver and the lung; why is that?"
Ana Soskic: "I followed the recommendation of the vet of which organs to send out that would cause sudden death... So that is why those samples were sent out. And again, the family was more than welcome - and would have been reimbursed - if they had sent all those samples out and we found something that was hereditary and congenital."

The Arochos are also upset because their contract excludes the state's Puppy Lemon Law, which can protect customers. In place of that is Furry Babies' own warranty.

JK: "Why is that in your contract?"

AS: "So we go above the bare minimum that the state requires. So the state only gives a 21-day scenario for customers; we offer them a full year of one hereditary congenital; we pay for three office visits, all the vaccinations, the spay or the neuter, fecal exams and a 10-day warranty. So we're offering them a better warranty."

But if the dog dies, the state's law allows for a full refund and some veterinary costs. Furry Babies only allows exchanges up to the purchase price.

"You know, I'm just as heartbroken as what happened with Gracie. I think it was 100 percent preventable. I think had the customers communicated with us better we could have helped them, and I'm most disappointed in the light they are representing this situation. It's very inaccurate," Soskic said.

But the Arocho family said they feel they were denied answers and a healthy puppy.

"It's heartbreaking, you know. So it's hard to pay if you don't have a dog," Priscilla said.

In addition, Furry Babies contracts do not allow customers to sue, instead requiring arbitration. As for the Puppy Lemon Law exclusion, the I-Team found one other pet store contract which is similar to Furry Babies, but it has a section to choose between the state's law or the store's warranty. If you choose to get a puppy from a pet store, you should look closely at the contract.

CLICK HERE to read Illinois's Puppy Lemon Law.
CLICK HERE for more I-Team reporting on Furry Babies pet stores
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