Baldwinite Danielle Cittadino thought she was buying her golden retriever, Max, from Shake A Paw in Lynbrook, she said. As it turned out, she later learned, she was leasing him. Now a bill on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk could make the practice of leasing pets illegal.
“They told me it was a finance,” Cittadino said of Shake A Paw. “There was no mention that it was a lease.”
If approved by the governor, the measure would prohibit companies from leasing dogs and cats and stop them from threatening to repossess already leased animals if owners failed to make scheduled payments. The legislation passed both houses of the New York State Legislature in June.
In the end, many Long Islanders say, leasing their pets winds up costing them significantly more than if they had paid for the animals up front.
“Pets are a vital part of the family for many people across our state,” State Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Republican from Syosset who sponsored the bill in the Senate, said in a prepared statement. “Imagine the bewilderment of some customers when they find out months later they do not actually own their new pet, but instead are locked into a rent-to-own scheme.”
In Cittadino’s case, Shake A Paw signed her up for a lease with Wags Lending without her realizing it. According to Wags Lending’s website, a customer has the option to make monthly lease payments on a pet for a set number of months. During that time, the customer does not own the pet, but can purchase it through an early-buyout option. “Our program helps customers afford the pet of their dreams they need when paying entirely with cash, credit card or a loan isn’t an option,” the website reads.
Cittadino said she paid more for Max than she would have if she had bought him outright from Shake A Paw. At the store, Max’s list price was $1,400, but under the lease agreement, Cittadino paid about $145 per month for 23 months to lease Max. That adds up to $1,935, or 41 percent more than if she had paid the full amount at the start.
Cittadino said she received an email from California-based Monterey Financial Services in July, which processed payments for Wags Lending, and was told that she either had to pay in full to purchase the dog or return him. She was told that she had to make a lump-sum payment of $340 in order to continue owning Max.
“I wasn’t doing either,” Cittadino said. “In my eyes, Wags owes me money, because I’ve paid double.”
In response, an attorney for Shake A Paw told her that the business would cover Max’s cost, and said the pet store stopped partnering with Wags Lending more than a year ago. Chris Hughes, president of Monterey Financial Services, also wrote in an email to the Herald that the company has not worked with Wags for over a year.
But Marissa Moder, of Levittown, said she has continued to have issues with MFS since she unknowingly leased her chocolate Lab, Kane, in August 2017 from Shake A Paw. She said that Kane was worth $2,300 at the store, but MFS wanted almost $7,000 for the lease, including an additional $2,000 by the end of August for her to own Kane. She said that customer relations representatives from MFS told her that if she did not want to make the payment, she should drop Kane off at a shelter.
“I’ve been going back and forth with Monterey for two and a half weeks, and they won’t do anything unless I pay the lump sum,” Moder said.
To make matters worse, she added, one of her payments was late in December, and MFS has considered every payment since then late as well. As a result, Moder said, her credit score has been declining each month, which is preventing her and her boyfriend from taking a mortgage on a house.
Hughes said he had never heard of a situation in which someone’s credit was negatively affected by a pet lease and did not think it was possible. He added that whenever someone stopped making payments, the company would “investigate why and work with the consumer to try to solve the issue in order to resume payments.”
“Under no circumstances would we or have we ever taken back a pet,” he said.
Cittadino said she would like to see Wags Lending stop the practice of leasing pets.
If Cuomo were to sign the bill, Moder said, she would no longer have to make the payments to MFS. “I don’t think puppies should be sold like this anymore,” she said.