TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – We’ve all heard about leasing a car, but how about a cat or a dog?
Animal rights groups say these so-called "lease-to-own schemes" prey on people’s love of animals, but newly filed legislation aims to ban the practice in Florida.
Carol Hoover owns Carol’s Critters. She’s been in business for nearly 30 years, but when asked if she had ever heard of pet leasing, she was dumbfounded.
“You know, a car or something maybe, but I've never heard of leasing a pet," Hoover said. "It's obviously something we would not do here."
Her reaction isn’t surprising.
"Lease-to-own" options only began gaining popularity over the last few years and are most commonly offered for purebred dog sales.
However, the bill filed by Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, would ban the practice in Florida for all pets.
Jennifer Hobgood, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, calls the practice predatory and deceptive.
"The problem is most people don't read the fine print," Hobgood said. "They don't realize they're signing a lease and that they won't actually own the dog until they make payments over a long period of time."
Some victims of lease-to-own schemes report spending as much as three times the list price of a pet. For some dog breeds, that can add up to thousands of dollars.
“Even if the dog passes away, dies, runs away -- if they can't keep the animal anymore and have to surrender it to a shelter, they're still paying for that dog for, often times, years,” Hobgood said.
If purchasers can’t pay, the family pet could legally be taken away by the leasing company.
For Hoover, the thought of using a pet as collateral is reprehensible.
"It must just not be anybody with any heart, any emotions, any clue what they're doing to people if they would take their animal away from them,” Hoover said.
So far, three states have banned lease-to-own schemes.
Animal rights groups hope Florida will become the fourth this year.
According to the ASPCA, of the approximately 65 puppy-selling stores in Florida, all but six offer leasing options.